There is no such thing as grape ice cream. The reason? It has a lot to do with dogs, girls, the 1876 World’s Fair, pharmaceutical companies, and it’s more complicated than you might ever imagine.
After his successful invention of the ice cream soda in 1874, Philadelphia’s Robert Green began to tackle a request from his customers. Green boldly stated, in an 1876 interview with the Pennsylvania Inquirer, “The people are tired of vanilla and chocolate. They want something more.” What Green did not know, is that grapes contain a special molecule Anthocyanin that prevents freezing, so he kept turning up with grape milk.
Companies such as Baskin Robins made a few futile attempts, but failed because of the anthocyanin. No breakthroughs were made until 1976, when Ben from ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ decided to try his hand. As it turns out, he was motivated by a challenge from Jerry’s attractive sister Becky.
Ben confessed in a People Magazine interview in 1984 that he had a huge crush on Becky and promised to create the flavor just for her. Knowing the history of grape ice cream, she coyly requested it, thinking it to be impossible. Ben began to include the grape skin and juice to better see the differences between batches. While he didn’t understand the science behind this at the time, he found that including the skins increased the levels of anthocyanin enough to make the ice cream freeze.
“Becky was impressed. We were at her house, alone. I gave her the scoop – on a cone. I was really getting somewhere. She was laughing and happy. She couldn’t believe I did it. I’ll never forget what happened next.
“Becky jokingly gave her dog a lick from the cone. He liked it and took a couple of licks. Then he just gasped and dropped dead. He flipped down onto the floor and was just gone. I had no idea grapes are toxic to dogs. Specifically to the anthocyanin. Becky was devasted. I had invented a deadly dog poison, and I definitely wasn’t getting anywhere with her now.”
Ben relayed this information to the pharmaceutical industry, and in 1982 the FDA banned the sale of research of any grape flavored ice creams or sherbets, natural or artificial due to pet hazards. This ban is in effect until 2028.