Whether you’re loading up on a Dairy Queen Blizzard or craving that Carvel twist cone, everyone has a soft spot for soft serve.

There are few foods more beloved by all ages than this swirly summertime staple. The frosty tower is refreshing enough to cool you down, but not so heavy that you feel sluggish afterward. According to NPD data, soft serve is the nation’s number one preferred type of frozen dairy dessert.

You may have loved the sweet stuff since the time you were in diapers, but how much do you actually know about soft serve? What makes it different that ice cream? And who invented such a magical treat? Here’s the low down on your favorite frosty treat.

It’s origins are sticky

Like many iconic inventions, there are conflicting stories about the origins of soft serve. At its center is a battle between soft serve giants Dairy Queen and Carvel. DQ is adamant that founder J.F. McCullough and his son, Alex, came up with the idea in the 1930s near Moline, Illinois. They experiments and found their new ice cream concoction would be stored at 18ºF rather than -5ºF, and would use between 5%-6% butter fat instead of the usual 10%. The pair opened the first Dairy Queen in 1940.

Elsewhere, legend has it that Tom Carvel accidentally invented soft serve. The story goes that on Memorial Day 1934 in Hartsdale, New York, Carvel’s truck got a flat tire. Carvel realized that his product was melting and pulled a quick move. He began selling the partially-melted ice cream to vacationers passing by as a new type of dessert — soft serve. It was a huge hit and Carvel opened his first store in 1934.

Margaret thatcher may have helped

While the idea of Margaret Thatcher as the inventor of soft serve is certainly fun, the truth is somewhat less direct. Shortly after graduating from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry, Thatcher worked briefly at J. Lyons & Company, a food conglomerate where she helped devise a method for whipping extra air into ice cream — a precursor to modern day soft serve. Mr. Whippy, a British chain of ice cream trucks, paved the way for the product to take hold in the U.K. and worldwide. While Thatcher may have contributed in some small part to the product, it’s generally agreed upon that soft serve was invented in the United States, and that it preceded Thatcher’s work at Lyons by about a decade.

American Ice cream

In parts of Europe, soft serve is known as “American ice cream.” In Germany and parts of northern Europe, it’s called “soft ice,” and in Greece and Romania it’s “machine ice cream.” The Irish call it “soft whip.” England calls it “Mr. Whippy,” or a “99” if a chocolate flake is added, especially when sold from an ice cream truck. It’s “soft cream” in Japan.

Even in New England it has a different name. It’s called Creemee in Vermont and surrounding areas where it’s often maple creemee — essentially soft serve with maple syrup blended in.

It has a lot of ingredients

Okay, sorry to spring this one on you. If you thought soft serve was only made with milk and sugar, you’d be wrong. Along with those two ingredients, soft serve also uses at least a few emulsifiers and thickeners that are usually a mouthful in themselves: Maltodextrin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, carrageenan, and potassium phosphate.

It’s not as fattening as ice cream

Regular ice cream has a milk fat content between 10 and 18 percent, while soft serve has a healthy sounding three to six percent. It’s a safer alternative if you’re on a diet, but don’t think it’s a healthy treat. One medium vanilla cone at Diary Queen contains 330 calories and 9 grams of fat.

It’s in the air

Aside from the slightly higher temperature and slightly lower fat content, the main reason soft serve differs from hard ice cream is because it contains a lot more air. It’s called “overrun” in the ice cream business and its what makes soft serve taste so light and fluffy, and unbelievably delicious.

Surprising facts about soft serve

ALSO TRY, Why you might need to find a new favorite flavor of ice cream.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.