What IS Frozen Custard, Anyway?

Never heard of this Midwestern treat? We'll explain!

Frozen custard is a quintessential Midwestern food. Whether you’re checking out the flavor of the day at Kopp’s or exchanging your kids’ coupon for a free scoop at Culver’s, no hot August night is complete without a cone or a cup. However, if you’re not from the Midwest, you might not know about frozen custard.

(Wondering about the best dessert from YOUR state? Find out here.)

What Is Frozen Custard?

You might be familiar with normal custard. The blend of milk or cream with egg yolk and sugar is often used in tortes and pies. Frozen custard is pretty similar, but with more sugar and, of course, frozen. In addition to the Culver’s franchise, towns in the Midwest boast plenty of mom-and-pop custard shops.

Like ice cream, custard comes in many flavors beyond vanilla. Wisconsin-based Kopp’s Frozen Custard is credited with starting the Flavor of the Day trend, offering a wide array of scoops from Grasshopper Fudge to Chocolate Caramel Crackle and Wedding Cake.

Frozen Custard vs. Ice Cream

If you’ve ever tried a scoop of frozen custard, you can taste the difference. Its thick and creamy texture feels richer and, well, creamier than ice cream. This difference comes down to the addition of egg yolks—the not-so-secret ingredient that takes this dessert to the next level. If you want to try making some yourself, find our frozen custard recipe here.

(What about gelato? It has nothing to do with egg—it’s basically ice cream with less air whipped in!)

Where Did Frozen Custard Come From?

Interestingly enough, frozen custard actually comes from Coney Island, New York. Back in 1919, the Kohr brothers began adding egg yolks to their desserts to slow them from melting in the hot summer sun. People loved the creamier product—and thus, frozen custard was born!

(Want to learn more about where your favorite treats come from? We tracked down the origin stories for eight famous fast food restaurants.)

Frozen custard never caught on in New York the way it did in the Midwest, though. By 1933, the World’s Fair in Chicago introduced the treat to the nation, and with their robust dairy industry and steady supply of ice, Wisconsin was quick to jump on board. When Prohibition started, many taverns started selling custard instead of alcohol to stay in business—and soon enough, frozen custard made its way into Wisconsinites’ hearts.

Today, Milwaukee is regarded as the unofficial custard capital of the world, but you can find frozen custard all across the Midwest.

Time for a Taste Test

If you haven’t tried a spoonful before, be sure to add frozen custard to your bucket list! And while you’re at it, do you know about these outrageous desserts from across the country?

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Emma B. Kumer
Emma Kumer is a marathon-runner, magazine-writer, and graphic design addict. She was a digital editorial intern for Taste of Home Magazine for Summer 2017. She is also a junior in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.