ICEE is a popular frozen carbonated beverage that can be found in many convenience stores, movie theaters, and fast food restaurants across North America. The signature icy and sweet taste of ICEEs comes from a special syrup that is mixed with carbonated water and dispensed at a slushy consistency. But what exactly is in the famous ICEE syrup that gives these drinks their classic flavor?
The History of ICEE
To understand the ingredients behind the ICEE syrup, it helps to first look at the history of the iconic frozen drink. ICEE was created in the 1960s by Omar Knedlik, a Dairy Queen owner and inventor in Kansas. At his restaurants, Knedlik began experimenting with old soda fountain equipment to create a slushy frozen beverage. After some tinkering, he combined semi-frozen carbonated water and fruit syrups to make what would become known as the first ICEE.
The new frozen treat was an immediate success at Knedlik’s Dairy Queen stores. Seeing the potential, he partnered with The ICEE Company to distribute the drink on a larger scale. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, ICEE expanded to become a nationwide sensation, available at countless shops and eateries.
The Introduction of ICEE Flavors
Originally, ICEEs only came in a few flavors like cherry and cola. But over the years, many more flavors hit the market to satisfy customer demand. Popular ICEE flavors today include:
- Fruit Punch
- Blue Raspberry
- Green Apple
- Blue Vanilla
This variety of flavors is made possible by the use of syrup concentrates that provide the signature taste profile of each different ICEE option.
The Primary Ingredients in ICEE Syrup
So what is actually used to make the syrup for ICEEs? While the exact recipe is proprietary information, a few key ingredients are known to be essential to making ICEE syrup:
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the main ingredients in traditional ICEE syrup. HFCS is a sweetener derived from corn that consists of fructose and glucose. It is an inexpensive, shelf-stable sweetener that provides the sugary taste and texture in ICEE syrup.
Natural and Artificial Flavors
Each ICEE flavor gets its distinctive taste from specialized flavorings. This includes natural flavorings from fruit extracts as well as FDA-approved artificial flavor compounds. For instance, the cherry ICEE flavor likely contains a blend of natural cherry extract along with boosts of artificial flavors to really make that red fruit flavor pop.
Vibrant dyes are added to ICEE syrup to produce the bright, deep colors expected of each flavor. Food colorings like Red 40 or Blue 1 provide the rich colors of classic ICEEs.
Water makes up part of the base of ICEE syrup before other ingredients are added. The water dilutes and blends the sugars, flavors, and colors into a smooth, drinkable syrup.
Other Possible Ingredients
Some additional minor components may be used in ICEE syrups as well, such as:
- Citric acid – for tartness
- Guar gum – for thickness
- Potassium sorbate – preservative
- Sodium benzoate – preservative
Exact Percentages of Ingredients Unknown
While we know the key components of ICEE syrup, the exact ratios and percentages of ingredients are not publicly available. The ICEE company keeps its proprietary syrup recipes confidential. However, we can safely assume that the main ingredient in terms of weight is likely high fructose corn syrup, followed by water and then flavor/color additives.
According to nutrition data, a 12-ounce ICEE beverage contains around 100 calories and 26 grams of sugar. Given the high sugar content, HFCS is certainly the predominant ingredient over water and other minor additives.
Typical Nutrition Facts for a 12 oz ICEE:
As you can see, a 12oz ICEE delivers 100 calories purely from carbohydrates in the form of sugars. This gives you a sense of just how high the ratio of HFCS is compared to other minor ingredients.
How Syrup Gets Turned into ICEE
Now that we know what is in the ICEE syrup, how does it actually get transformed into the slushy beverage customers enjoy? Here is a quick rundown of how syrup becomes an ICEE drink:
- The proprietary syrup is shipped to ICEE vendors.
- The syrup is connected to specialized ICEE machines.
- Carbonated water and the flavored syrup are simultaneously pumped into the ICEE machine.
- The liquids blend together rapidly under pressure.
- The mixture is chilled to between 24-29°F, instantly creating a partially frozen slush.
- The semi-frozen slushie beverage is dispensed from the ICEE machine nozzle into cups.
- Drinks are topped with a dome-shaped lid and straw for enjoyment!
It is really the rapid mixing of syrup and carbonated water under pressure and cold temperatures that gives ICEEs their distinctive icy, foamy texture. Adjusting the ratio of syrup to carbonated water and the ice crystal formation allows vendors to achieve that perfect ICEE consistency that customers love.
Standard ICEE Machine Mixing Ratios
As you can see, the norm is one part flavored syrup to four or five parts bubbly water. Vendors can experiment to reach the ideal syrup-to-water ratio for their equipment.
Special Diet ICEE Options
For customers looking to cut back on sugar, there are some lower-calorie ICEE options available:
ICEE Light contains 75 calories and 15g of sugar per 12oz serving. It is sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium rather than high fructose corn syrup.
Diet Cherry and Coke ICEE
Diet ICEE flavors like cherry and Coca-Cola are sweetened with aspartame and available in limited locations. They contain 0g sugar and about 5 calories per 12oz cup.
ICEE Floatz are light, smooth frozen beverages made with real fruit juice and containing around 100 calories per 16oz cup.
So for customers looking to cut back on sugars but still enjoy a frozen treat, there are some lower-sugar alternatives by the ICEE brand.
Recreating the ICEE Experience at Home
While nothing exactly replicates the classic ICEE taste and texture, some enthusiasts have come up with ways to mimic ICEE-like drinks at home. Some suggestions include:
- Using syrups for snow cones or Italian ice to flavor shaved ice.
- Adding cherry or other flavor extracts to soda water.
- Blending together fruit, syrups, soda, and ice.
- Investing in a specialty frozen drink machine.
With some experimenting, you may be able to make a drink reminiscent of an ICEE on your own. But the proprietary syrup formulas will likely make true replication difficult.
ICEE Syrup Helps Deliver That Signature Frozen Treat
For decades, ICEEs have been a refreshing, icy treat for people looking to cool down and get a quick sugar fix. The key to these frozen beverages is the proprietary ICEE syrup formulas that give them their classic flavor profiles and sweetness.
While the exact recipes are trade secrets, common ingredients in ICEE syrup include high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavorings, food coloring, water, and preservatives. When properly mixed with carbonated water in specialized machines under cold temperatures, these syrups produce the slushy, colorful, sweet beverages that ICEE fans enjoy.
So for a one-of-a-kind icy indulgence, customers keep coming back to ICEE and its mysterious, flavorful syrup recipes.