By Jennifer Young
It’s cherry! It’s raspberry! It’s vanilla!
Yes, it’s Superman ice cream!
Unless you live and treat in the Midwest, you may not be aware of this heroically super ice cream that could also be dubbed, ‘dieters’ kryptonite. While Superman ice cream has historically featured a unique flavor-blend swirled together with a rich vanilla pudding-like ice cream, it’s history as a great Midwestern treat is even more unique, and if it weren’t for Prohibition, this bit of lusciousness served on a cone might not exist. In these waning days of summer, find yourself an ice cream parlor that serves this triple-flavored ice cream and find out just where this out-of-this-world treat comes from.
First of all, what is this stuff that has little kids ogling and smearing their fingerprints all over the ice cream parlor’s glass-topped freezers, pointing to “that one!” and what does it taste like? Originally, Superman ice cream featured three flavors: red pop (strawberry-flavored soda), lemon, and Blue Moon—a delectable concoction in its own right with its combination of vanilla pudding mix, raspberry, and lemon flavors. Although it’s still possible to find Superman ice cream with these original flavors—or close enough—you’ll find all sorts of incarnations of it these days with as many flavor combinations as there are Superman films.
So, when and why was this ice cream invented—and why was it named after a superhero? This is the part that’s really interesting for food history buffs because Superman ice cream was not, alas, named for the Man of Steel. In fact, Superman ice cream was invented during Prohibition (1920-1933) and Superman didn’t reveal that stupendous ‘S’ on his rippling muscled chest until 1938. So, it might actually be said, that DC owes a super debt to a legendary frozen treat.
Most food historians trace Superman ice cream to Detroit and the Stroh Brewing Company, which was founded in the city in 1850 and is today owned by the Pabst Brewing Company. During the years of Prohibition, Julius Stroh operated the company as the Stroh Products Company, selling everything from birch beer and soft drinks to malt products and ice cream.
It was a branch of the company—Stroh Ice Cream Company—that most agree invented Superman ice cream at some point during the 1920s, long before Clark Kent shed his workaday suit in a Metropolis phone booth. Naturally, when Prohibition ended, Stroh went back to brewing beer, but Superman ice cream remained to delight ice cream aficionados all across the Midwest.
Of course—don’t be fooled! Some ice cream parlors sell a version of Superman ice cream that’s just plain old vanilla swirled with a bunch of vibrant food coloring, making it a treat for the eyes if not the taste buds (sounds like a Lex Luthor prank). And, you might not have luck finding an example with those exact original flavors. Stroh wound up selling his ice cream brand to a dairy that marketed the ice cream as “Super Rainbow,” and that’s when its flavor profile began to change. Later ice cream vendors would put their own stamp on Superman, replacing red pop with black cherry flavoring and the lemon with vanilla.
Your best bet for finding Superman ice cream with those original flavors (unless you make your own) is to go on an ice cream parlor road trip to Michigan or Wisconsin where it’s still widely available. And, if you’re still clinging to the sweetness of summer days, it’s a good time to indulge your ice cream sweet tooth before your taste buds start to demand pumpkin spice.