Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Ever since ice cream was invented in the 7th century, the formula has remained essentially the same. Find a cow. Milk it. Freeze it. Eat it. It may be simple, but it’s undoubtedly effective.
Of course, as we became better at cooking, we began experimenting with a few extra elements. Exotic flavourings like chocolate and vanilla became increasingly common, and before long all sorts of wacky cones were being served to a ravenous customer base around the world. Nonetheless, all ice cream had the same basic blueprint. And then along came Ben and Jerry.
America’s best known ice cream brand turned the world on its head with its range of bold ingredients and outlandish flavour combinations. Mixing traditional solid sweets with soft ice cream gave customers a taste experience that they’d never known they needed. However, were it not for a surprising and little known fact about co-founder and international ice cream guru Ben Cohen, the world would not have Ben and Jerry’s as we know it today.
When Ben first decided to start making ice cream with school friend and entrepreneurial partner Jerry Greenfield, their recipe different little from the standard formula of the day. Originally setting out to launch a bagel business, neither had any ice cream specific expertise to speak of, so they had little choice but to follow accepted practise. However, Ben was never satisfied with the pair’s early ice cream efforts. He always felt that something was missing. This was because he couldn’t smell or taste anything.
Ben had suffered from a rare sinus condition known as anosmia since birth. This rendered him unable to perceive odors and most tastes for his whole life. On the surface, it would seem that this would make a job in the food industry an extremely ill-advised career choice. It turned out that Ben’s condition would prove to be the brand’s secret weapon.
Since he couldn’t smell anything, Ben relied heavily on texture to enjoy his food. If a meal was too smooth, chewy or soggy, he couldn’t enjoy it – no matter what fancy ingredients may have been in it. Despite being responsible for all of Ben and Jerry’s six original flavours, Ben could never be satisfied with a traditional ice cream texture. In order to compensate his need for mouth-feel, a new strategy was needed.
The result was the Ben began to incorporate chunks of other foods into his recipes. Cookie dough, brownies and chocolate flakes all made an appearance in the early days. The chunks even led to a few disputes between the business partners, with Jerry believing that lots of small chunks were the way to go, whilst Ben advocated for a few larger pieces embedded in a tub. Eventually, they settled on lots of large chunks and the basic Ben and Jerry’s template was born.
The Ben and Jerry’s philosophy of including other foods in their ice cream is what has helped them stand apart from other, more traditional ice cream businesses. Though their range of products has diversified over the years, at their core they remain a company committed to delivering different texture with every bite. Though there can be few things worse for a foodie than losing their sense of taste, Ben Cohen is living proof that you don’t need flavour to make great food.