Now we know: What’s in a 99?

Soft-serve ice cream is everywhere, but does Thatcher have anything to do with it?

This summer has already delivered more heat than even the most meteorologically positive among us would have dared to predict. The heatwaves have been enough to make the 99 melt in your hands before you’ve even finished the flake. Irish innovators like 3FE have taken the opportunity of the spells of gloriously hot summer we’ve been experiencing to elevate soft-serve by adding their Dublin-roasted coffee to the humble cone – head to their Sussex Street branch in Dublin 4 for a cup or cone of their espresso soft-serve.

But just what exactly is in a 99? Side-stepping the fact that we still call it a 99 even though it hasn’t actually been that price since at least the summer of Italia ‘90, many of us also accept this tower of soft-serve ice-cream without giving any thought to how it’s actually made.

Also known as Mr Whippy or American ice cream, the origin story of soft-serve ice-cream is somewhat contested. Some sources give credit to the American ice-cream seller Tom Carvel in the 1930s who is said to have seen the potential appeal of softer ice-cream when his ice-cream truck broke down one fateful day in 1934, though the American company Dairy Queen claim to have invented soft serve in 1938.


Perhaps you've even heard Margaret Thatcher being linked to soft-serve? According to The Atlantic, the "Iron Lady of Soft-Serve" may have helped in the development of soft-serve technology while working as a chemist for the British food manufacturer J. Lyons and Co in their collaboration with Mr Whippy in the 1940s. However, a 2013 New Yorker article entitled The Margaret Thatcher Soft-Serve Myth states that soft-serve's history really is an American story.


As you might suspect, soft-serve ice-cream is made up of a little more than just milk, sugar and cream. One of the world’s largest fast food chains launched what they claimed to be their healthiest soft-serve yet in the summer of 2017. The chain’s website lists the ingredients as milk, sugar, cream, corn syrup, natural flavour, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, guar gum, carrageenan, and vitamin A palmitate. Ingredients that had been dropped included artificial vanilla flavour, sodium phosphate and disodium phosphate – the last two ingredients have been implicated in higher risks of heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney health when consumed in large doses, according to a review in the journal Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease (source: No matter how hot it gets this summer, be mindful of the old adage – everything in moderation, including 99s.