Editor’s note: The following is the – frankly, incorrect – attitude of an Eater writer. There was internal disagreement among the workforce, but we decided to publish to encourage dialogue and open communication.
From time to time an opinion about food will travel so quietly and quickly that one day you look around and it is everywhere. Suddenly all of the oatmeal is making like oats are going extinct, or putting matcha in everything, or pretending they’ve always known what chili chips are even though they’re white. Regardless of how you personally experience each taste (to me, chili crisp is great while oatmeal is the devil), it’s confusing every time. When did everyone start talking about it? How did this opinion emerge? And why did no one consult me?
This is how I think of pellet ice cream.
In recent years, and especially in the last year, fanaticism has developed around pellet ice cream, also known as nugget ice cream or “Sonic ice cream” as it is the main type of Sonic Drive-In. Pellet ice cream is tiny ice cream made from pressed ice flakes; it absorbs drinks quickly and melts faster. It looks like little tater tots floating in your drink. And I think that’s what people want.
It turned out that the pellet ice craze did not appear like an unexpected comet as I had imagined, but actually incubated for years – like an alien virus. In 2016, Food52 released a recipe for Sonic Ice, with writer Amanda Sims saying it was one of the main reasons she ever went to Sonic. In 2018 food writer and former Eater editor Paula Forbes wrote on the public devotion to pellet ice cream, with fans (including actor Matthew McConaughey) looking for special ice cream makers to have at home. Forbes called it “the best ice cream” and interviewed a bartender who praised its “porous and chewable” nature. On The Kitchn, Hali Bey Ramdene wrote that it The best thing “ on Sonic’s menu, and Sonic even started it Selling 10 lb bags of ice cream because of the demand. Even GE promotes his Opal Nugget Ice Makerwhich began in 2015 with the slogan “The Good Ice”.
Earlier this year, Helen Rosner, also a former Eater editor, explained the widespread love for pellet ice cream in more detail by doing New Yorker. She describes how its flakes are reminiscent of a “well-laminated pastry”, and the sound that is gently stirred in a drink is, in contrast to the hard clink of ice cubes, “like someone shaking an Afuche-Cabasa in the artment next door” . No one has ever described ice cream so lovingly, and when she said, “The good ice cream is pellet ice cream, and knowing that means you need it,” I wanted to believe her.
But I can not.
I remain completely amazed at how Pelleteis got this reputation considering that it was actually served to me in drinks. Those who love it argue that pellet ice melts more slowly than ice cubes from a thermodynamic point of view. But according to Planck, every time I order a cocktail that is served over pellet ice, it immediately tastes watered down. Pellet ice fills a glass in a way that makes me suspicious, like there isn’t enough to drink for what I paid for – one sip and I’m almost done. Any drink through the straw acts like half air, which never allows me to taste the actual liquid I wanted to drink with no tasteless filler. This is an objectively terrible experience, and every time I come across a post, I’ve been simmering as they’ll look far and wide to fill their drinks with bite-sized freezer brandy. Just get yourself a slushee !!! Am i so contactless? No, it’s the pellet ice cream fanatics who must be wrong.
In my search for an explanation, I reread the essays and Instagram posts. I read the tweets that tell me how wrong I am. The common denominator seems to be that for the fans, pellet ice is not used to keep the drink cold (Hm), but to chew. Rosner says it has a “yielding texture that is perfect for chewing”. Forbes writes that “the goal is to have some ice left after you’ve finished your drink for, um, snacking.” When selling its home ice cream maker, GE says traditional ice cubes are “made from hard-frozen cubes that are difficult to chew and don’t retain any flavor.” Ramdene even admits that “it melts quickly and really takes up a lot of glass space, but I love the experience of taking a sip of a drink and having a few tiny glaciers crunch up.” Here I thought the purpose of ice was to optimize the drinking experience; I judged pellet ice cream by these metrics and assumed everyone else was too. How wrong of me. They’re all just trying to eat ice cream with a spoon.
People seem to struggle to accept that someone else – especially when it comes to food – thinks differently than they do. I am aware of this in myself and in others. The idea of crunching on a piece of ice strikes me as deeply uncomfortable, and I couldn’t imagine a world where the desire to chew ice cream was the main motivation for making a bev. But as I write, I am eating my morning cottage cheese, a meal my spouse can’t even watch me eat because they find it so gross. It is good to be reminded that your point of view is yours alone, and that people have the ability to live in so many ways.
That being said, pellet ice sucks.