Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen

Why Are Dairy Queen Blizzards Served Upside Down?

Dairy Queen
Dairy Queen

It’s part lactose performance art, part boastfulness, and mostly awkward. Walk into any one of Dairy Queen’s 6000-plus U.S. locations (or up to a window) and there’s a very good chance your server will hand you a Blizzard—their soft serve treat packed with chunks of candy, cookies, baked goods, or fruit—upside-down, the spoon handle facing the floor.

A ritual since the national debut of the dessert in 1985, the eccentric hand-off has been questioned, puzzled over, and was even part of a nationwide promotion in 2016: If an employee failed to adhere to the policy, customers received a coupon for a free Blizzard. (Many outposts still offer a free Blizzard if yours isn't served upside down, but it's up to each franchise owner to determine whether or not it's a standard policy.)

If you’ve ever wondered why they do it, you can credit an obnoxious 14-year-old kid in St. Louis.

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Like most restaurant chains, Dairy Queen has often relied on its franchisees to help shape its menu. Founded in 1940 to capitalize on the soft serve ice cream phenomenon, the brand was fortunate enough to attract the attention of St. Louis businessman Sam Temperato, who owned dozens of locations and proved to be a steady fountain of ideas. His Full Meal Deal, which packaged a burger, fries, drink, and sundae for one flat price, was a hit. So was his notion to add chili dogs to the menu's lineup.

In the 1970s, Temperato took notice of a custard stand operated by Ted Drewes Jr., a locally-owned operation that managed to hold its own against the marketing onslaught of Temperato’s Dairy Queen by peddling frozen treats Drewes referred to as “concrete,” ultra-thick shakes with bits of fruit mixed in. Drewes served them upside-down to customers to prove it wasn’t some watered-down concoction. The glob of custard was so dense it would hold the spoon in place and remain inside the serving cup.

That finishing touch was the result of a run-in Drewes had with 14-year-old customer Steve Gamber back in 1959. Gamber had been biking to Drewes’s stand for a sandwich and chocolate malt nearly every day. Each time, he’d demand Drewes make the malt thicker.

Finally, "just to shut me up," Gamber recalled, Drewes handed him a malt so solid he could turn it upside down without risking spillage. “Is that thick enough for you?” Drewes asked.

This practice did not escape the attention of Temperato, who went to Dairy Queen executives in 1983 with the idea for a soft serve concoction made with fruit or crunched-up candy bar chunks, a practice he had seen in another local stand called Huckleberry’s. (Drewes refused to use candy in his custards.) After executives visited St. Louis and saw the lines at Drewes’s locations, they signed off on the Blizzard, using a trademarked name they had owned since the 1950s.

Dairy Queen owner Warren Buffett marvels at the Blizzard's gravity-defying properties. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

At the time, the thought of candy mixed with soft serve was a novel concept, and not one that was met with total enthusiasm. Mars, which owns the M&Ms and Snickers candy brands, refused to ship Dairy Queen broken-up pieces for the Blizzard; so did Oreo. But once Dairy Queen rang up sales of nearly 100 million Blizzards in 1985 alone, the brands had a change of heart. Blizzards have been a staple of Dairy Queen’s menu ever since.

Temperato, who freely admitted the inspiration he derived from both Drewes and Huckleberry’s, was showered with praise for boosting company revenues by 15 to 17 percent. The McDonald's McFlurry and Friendly’s Cyclone followed, both attempting to capitalize on the frozen phenomenon. But only the Blizzard—born of "concrete" custard—is served upside down.

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Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
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This Just In
The Honey Smacks In Your Pantry May Be Contaminated With Salmonella
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.

Salmonella, a bacterial food-borne illness often associated with raw eggs and undercooked chicken, has been linked recently to a popular children's cereal. According to Snopes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to avoid Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, citing the brand as the likely cause of the Salmonella outbreak spreading across the U.S.

Since early March, 73 people in 31 states have contracted the virus. Salmonella clears up in most people on its own, but in some cases it can lead to hospitalization or even death. Twenty-four victims have been admitted to hospitals so far, with no reported deaths. Of the 39 patients who were questioned, 30 of them remembered eating cold cereal and 14 of them specifically cited Honey Smacks.

In response to the outbreak, the Kellogg Company has recalled its 15.3-ounce and 23-ounce boxes of Honey Smacks printed with any "best if used by" date between June 14, 2018 and June 14, 2019 (recalled boxes are labeled on the bottom with the UPC codes 3800039103 or 3800014810). The CDC recommends that you take even greater precautions by throwing out or returning any Honey Smacks you have at home, regardless of package size, "best by" date, or whether your family has eaten from the box previously without getting sick.

Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and usually appear 12 hours to three days after the contaminated food is ingested. If you or someone in your household is showing signs of the infection, ask a doctor about how to best treat it.

[h/t Snopes]

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
iStock
iStock

The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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