Chewable ice goes by many names. It's chewable ice, crunchy ice, soft ice, nugget ice, pearl ice, and even "The People's Ice" to name a few. But what's the attraction to chewable ice, and how deep does this popular beverage trend really go?
To begin, it's important to know what pearl ice really is and how it's created. Essentially, an ice machine creates shaved ice and then molds that ice into small, compact, pearl shapes. It dispenses smoothly, blends quickly, and displaces liquid better than any other types of ice.
Because pearl ice absorbs the liquid in which it is placed, it can achieve an almost candy-like quality when used in sodas or sugary beverages. The ice soaks up the sweetened beverage, holds that liquid, and then disperses it when the pearl ice is chewed. It's this quality that makes it extremely popular, which can lead to higher customer satisfaction rates and increased profits for restaurants and c-stores.
How popular is chewable ice?
Let's put it this way… there's a website called IceChewing.com that offers pearl ice lovers an opportunity to chat and exchange ideas and reasons for chewing ice. From medical reasons to recipes and stories, this is truly a cultural phenomenon.
As discussed in a 2008 article from the Wall Street Journal titled, "Chew This Over: Munchable Ice Sells Like Hot Cakes," compulsive ice eating was observed as long ago as the 1600s, when an academic article in France described young women afflicted with an "evil" diet of large quantities of snow and ice.
Ice chewing really started to ramp up in popularity in the mid-2000s. This is when the ice-loving south was first called the "Chew Belt" and when commercial ice machine manufacturers like Ice-O-Matic began to build ice machines for pearl ice.
Today, chewable ice is as popular than ever. Many establishments that serve chewable ice such as Ice-O-Matic's pearl ice have even been know to sell cups or bags of just plain ice. This level of popularity means there's profit potential in ice.