Secrets Dairy Queen Doesn't Want You To Know

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Let's be honest here, and say right up front that one of the best things about summer afternoons and baseball games while growing up was the celebratory trip to Dairy Queen. It even made losing not so bad, and when you could look forward to one of those perfectly formed cones or a Blizzard filled with all sorts of goodness... all was right in the world. But DQ is definitely hiding some secrets, and it's entirely possible your coach wouldn't have taken you there if he knew some of these.

It's not really ice cream

Sure, you call it ice cream, and we're not going to tell you to stop. We will tell you you're not entirely correct — but neither are those rumors you may have heard about Dairy Queen being dairy-free. That started going around the internet in 2015, says Snopes, and the truth is complicated.

The FDA has rules in place about a lot of things, including what can and can't be called "ice cream." The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 says — in part — ice cream has to have no less than 10 percent milkfat. There are a ton of other ratios, rules, and regulations, but basically, DQ's soft serve doesn't have enough milkfat to be called ice cream, so it was originally referred to as ice milk. That doesn't sound nearly as good, though, and the FDA doesn't even consider that an official category any more. Instead, they're allowing products to be marketed as things like low-fat or light ice cream, so they're not technically breaking any rules... but they're not serving you the ice cream you might be expecting.

The soft-serve recipe is top secret

You've probably heard rumors about just how top secret KFC's fried chicken recipe is, and those rumors are true. Did you know DQ has a secret recipe, too? They do, and according to what chief branding officer Michael Keller told ABC News, the recipe for DQ's soft serve is kept in a safe deposit box and few people are trusted with a key. It's their most closely-guarded secret, and that's not entirely surprising. It's the basis for all their ice cream products, after all, and almost equally top secret is what goes on in their research and testing lab. That's located in Edina, Minnesota, and it's where Keller says the science of DQ meets taste.

DQ might not have invented soft-serve after all

DQ often takes the credit for the invention of soft serve, and the official story from The Cone with the Curl on Top (via Forbes) says DQ's founder, JF McCullough, invented it in the 1930s. McCullough and his son were already known for selling ice cream, and experimented with serving at a slightly warmer temperature and with a softer consistency. They tweaked and finally perfected the recipe — using a lower percentage of fat — and then adjusted the design of a frozen custard freezer. DQ opened in 1940... but there's another version of the invention of soft serve, and it has nothing to do with DQ.

The other credits rival Tom Carvel with inventing the idea, and we're even given a date: Memorial Day, 1934. Carvel was serving ice cream when his truck broke down, and instead of throwing out his melting product, he sold it as soft ice cream. The first Carvel store opened in 1934, so who was really first?

Some candy companies aren't happy with DQ's Blizzards

Today, DQ is more famous for their Blizzards than their soft serve, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, when Franchise Times took a look back at DQ's history in 2012, they said the Blizzard almost looked pretty different. The original idea came from St. Louis franchisee Ted Drews in the 1970s, and the then-named Concrete Blizzard used fruit mixed with candy. Once corporate saw how popular the idea was, the Blizzard hit the streets in 1985. Heath and Hydrox cookies were the first on board, but Mars and Oreo both refused to join the party. Their initial reluctance changed pretty quickly, but it wasn't over yet.

In 2016, Reuters reported Mars was considering pulling M&Ms and other candies out of products like the Blizzard, McDonald's McFlurry, and Burger King's Snickers pie. Their reasoning was that these sugar-packed desserts went against the message of moderation they were trying to send. While Mars keeps mum on future plans, this sweet treat remains under the microscope.

There was some controversy over the name MooLatte

When DQ introduced their MooLatte in 2004, it didn't come controversy-free. Once people started pointing out the similarities between the words "MooLatte" and "mulatto," the public started wondering whether or not DQ had thought out the consequences of their name. According to Slate, the term — which refers to the child of a biracial couple — is derived from the Spanish for "mule", and it's one of those words that's sort of fallen by the wayside as far as racial slurs. But reviving it definitely wasn't seen as the right thing to do, and when the Houston Free Press (via Slate) quizzed DQ spokesman Chad Durasa on whether or not a few other racially-charged names would be appropriate for their products, he didn't seem to acknowledge he saw anything wrong with the words. It's not clear what wires got crossed, but MooLatte stayed and the controversy faded into the background — gone, but not entirely forgotten.

It's more unhealthy than you think

No one's expecting something healthy when they head to DQ for dessert, but it's still shocking just how bad some of their dessert items really are. Check out their nutritional information and you'll find there are some decent items (like their fruit smoothies), but even picking up a medium Blizzard is likely to set you back between 20 and 30 grams of fat and around 100 grams of sugar. To put that in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends maxing daily sugar intake at 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Go for a large Blizzard, and you might be looking at up to 120, 130, and even 150 grams of sugar. Add an extra topping or two, and you're talking hundreds of additional calories. A guilty pleasure, indeed!

Their food is pretty unhealthy, too

If you've ever wondered what makes DQ's grill items taste so good, it's all the calories and fat. Let's pick some popular items, check their nutritional information, and see just how bad they are. A side of chili cheese fries will set you back 51 grams of fat and 1,020 calories, while that deluxe hamburger is a still-impressive 21 grams of fat and 380 calories. Ever stop there for a breakfast treat? Those biscuits and gravy are going to leave you feeling miserable for the rest of the day, because you just packed away 46 grams of fat and 720 calories.

Is there any good news? Not much, but if you must go, go for a bowl of chili, or the BBQ beef or pork sandwiches. Your heart will thank you for it.

There are so many additives

It's no secret there are some mysterious ingredients in a lot of the foods we eat, and in 2015, got in touch with DQ to get a list of their soft serve ingredients. While milkfat and nonfat milk top the list, there are also things like carrageenan and guar gum there, along with artificial flavor. That's a term clinical registered dietitian Alicia Romano of Tufts Medical Center says always gives her pause, because it's not clear just what they're talking about.

Carrageenan is also a little iffy, and while it's both considered safe and commonly used, Prevention says it's also been linked to gut irritation and other digestive issues. If you feel cruddy after hitting DQ, this could be why. Prevention also says it's used to make lots of low-fat foods creamier and thicker, and while there's no concrete evidence linking it to things like cancer, you should know there's ongoing research into exactly that. And while guar gum is safe in small amounts (via LiveScience), it's also used in hydrofracking. That means the price of it has skyrocketed, and we all know what rising costs mean for the consumer.

Corporate had some serious legal fights with franchisees

Of all the franchises you might consider buying into, DQ seems like it might be the most fun. A soft serve machine at your disposal 24/7? Sign us up!

That's just on the surface, though, and in 2008 DQ corporate got into a major disagreement with some of their franchisees. According to the Los Angeles Times, franchisees across 10 states got together to sue DQ for their unreasonable demands. The suit said DQ was threatening franchisees with an insane ultimatum: invest between $275,000 and $450,000 to remodel stores or lose the franchise. The franchisees claim the upfront investment was just the start, and that the new DQ Grill & Chill concept would increase their operation costs and the staff they needed to employ, a risk compounded by the fact the format was completely untested. Given some stores had already failed and closed, it wasn't a risk franchisees felt they should be forced to take. Franchise Times says the suit was ultimately dismissed because the parties had come to various stages of resolution, but it was a serious eye-opener as to what goes on behind the DQ curtain.

It's pretty easy to make your own DQ ice cream cake

After you have a DQ ice cream cake, it's tough to justify a plain old birthday cake again. They're expensive, sure, but it's a special thing, right? One thing DQ definitely doesn't want you to know is just how easy it is to make your own with whatever types of ice cream you want. According to the Brown Eyed Baker, it's just a matter of getting the ice cream to the right consistency before spooning it into a cake pan, and you're going for slightly soft. Layer it into your pan with whatever layers you like (you can use things like crumbled cookies or sauce usually reserved for toppings), and the trick is to refreeze your cake between adding the ice cream layers. Top with some whipped cream, sprinkles, candy, or fruit, and you have not just a DQ knock-off, but one that you've made to your own tastes. That's a win!

Some locations are accused of fostering a hostile environment

Listen to some of the stories that come out of the back room of DQ, and it's enough to give you chills. Every workplace has their own share of problems, but in 2017 a 21-year-old DQ manager named Harley Branham was charged with second-degree manslaughter after claims the constant abuse and ridicule she dished out drove one employee, 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner, to commit suicide. According to CNN, the case highlighted just how devastating bullying can be to those on the receiving end of it. Branham says she was just joking around, but after hearing testimony at a public inquiry, a jury ruled she should be charged and that DQ had been negligent in training employees how to deal with instances of bullying.

Also in 2017, an Illinois franchisee had their store taken away after a mother and her two children were subjected to a racist rant from DQ owner Jim Crichton. Crichton not only berated her in front of her children, but proudly declared his racist beliefs to police when they were called to intervene in the incident. ABC Chicago reported DQ's official statement condemning their franchisee's actions, and promising he didn't represent the company.

They've had their share of food poisoning claims

While you might expect to feel a little queasy after eating an entire large, candy-filled Blizzard, you can also accept that's your own fault. What's not your fault, though, is when you're served something that makes you sick from the very first taste. In 2014, ABC Denver reported a 7-year-old boy was taken to the hospital after getting a DQ shake that started "bubbling" on his tongue. His mother tasted the shake, and said "it tasted like you were drinking a very strong cleanser, then the burn instantly started". She complained — along with several others — and found that one employee had left a bucket to soak in a floor cleaner and degreaser solution. Another employee had thought the bucket was clean, and then used it for vanilla syrup. Both employees were written up, but customers weren't satisfied.

Another DQ sent one Texas man to the hospital in 2017. After Ralph Bryan ate part of a moldy Belt-Buster burger, he ended up in the emergency room with food poisoning. The Dallas Morning News said the September incident wasn't resolved, and in spite of being offered a coupon for more DQ food, he was planning on suing.

They've had more than their share of safety problems

DQ probably hopes you don't take a look at their track record with the health and safety inspector, either, because there are a ton of not just violations, but stores that have been closed. According to Consumerist, DQ had the highest number of health and safety violations in the country in 2007, and Orlando locations averaged 13 violations per store, with one netting 29 violations including dead roaches on a prep table.

Things haven't been fixed, either. An Atlanta location failed in 2016 because of things like mold build-up in the machines and improper food temps (via WSB-TV), some of the same violations another Georgia location failed for the previous year (via WSB-TV). Florida health inspectors found live roaches living in a Temple Terrace DQ in 2016, and they were tipped off after people started complaining they were getting roaches in their soft serve. The list goes on and on, but we'll leave you with one more — a DQ in Nogales was shut down twice in six months for health code violations "that posed an imminent health risk", reported Nogales International. Check those health and safety reports!