John Harrison eating ice cream

This man's taste buds are insured for $1 million, and the reason why is pretty bizarre

Everyone loves an ice cream. Even if you’re lactose intolerant or long for a day when people and cows occupy the same social standing, no one can deny that when the sun’s beating down and you’re lying on beach, there’s nothing better than a cold cone of something scrummy. The food industry knows this. That is why they’re prepared to risk millions in the pursuit of the world’s next favourite flavour. It’s an arms race that’s been going on for decades.

Ice Cream cones in a row Credit: The Denizen

In the US, there is one company that stands head and shoulders above the rest. The extremely imposing sounding Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings, Inc have been pumping out tubs of the good stuff since the early 1950s. When they joined forces with Nestle in 2002 for $3.2 billion in the mother of all ice cream mergers, Dreyer’s found that they and their subsidiaries, including family favourites Edy’s and Haagen-Dazs, suddenly had a 17.5% share of the entire global market. To make this mega investment worthwhile, Dreyer’s would need some serious firepower.

Step forward frozen foods legend, John Harrison. At first glance, Harrison may seem like an unassuming sort of superstar. However, as his job makes clear, not all heroes wear capes. With taste buds insured for a whopping $1 million, Harrison is the official ice cream tester for the entire Dreyer’s family.

John Harrison eating ice cream Credit: Alchetron

Though it might seem like a simple enough job to sample and comment upon ice cream every day, Harrison proves that this couldn’t be further from the truth. His taste buds are so sensitive that he can immediately tell the difference between an ice cream containing 11.5% butterfat and 12%, making him almost unique in the food tasting world. So special is his gift that he is deemed indispensable to the wider company. Small wonder that he’s supposed to have a million-dollar tongue.

The life of an ice cream tester is not your typical working week. Each day, Harrison estimates that he navigates his way around 60 samples of ice cream, assessing them for their quality before they are allowed to head to production. During his three decades at the forefront of the business, he estimates that he has tasted samples from nearly 200 million gallons of ice cream. That’s quite a collection for anyone’s resume.

Different ice cream flavours Credit: FloridaTix

Harrison’s method is meticulous. First he considers each sample visually - if they don’t meet his exacting standards, then they are forbidden from leaving the factory. Those that pass stage one are then readied for tasting. Harrison allows each sample to warm by about 12 degrees, in order to “maximise the flavour and get the full top note, bouquet, and aroma”, as well as “avoid what the young people call brain freeze.” Each tasting is carried out with a golden spoon, in order to avoid the contaminants present in wood and plastics. Clearly, ice cream eating is no laughing matter.

Cookies and cream in a bowl Credit: KitchMe

It’s small wonder that Harrison’s awesome skills have helped him forge one of the most formidable reputations in the food business. However, he hasn’t just stopped at eating. During his partnership with Dreyer’s, it’s estimated that Harrison has also helped to create more than 100 new flavours of ice cream and is also credited with giving the world the classic flavour cookies and cream. Given the scale of his achievements to date, there can be little doubt that Harrison has earned his million dollar insurance tag.

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