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As the days get longer and evenings become less and less chilly, the need to go out for an evening drive and grab a sweet treat increases exponentially. Every town has its local ice cream haunt and from spring until early fall, they’re a go-to place for adults and kids alike. Milkshakes, floats, and hard ice cream are given at these places, but soft-serve ice cream is probably the main attraction and motivator for going out to eat ice cream. Soft serve is a creamy and dreamy delight, or at least it’s supposed to be. If you’ve ever come across an icy, crunchy soft serve, here’s the reason why.

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Soft serve machines are big, and rightly so. You initially pour the ice cream base into the top chamber. The mixture then transfers into a large freezing chamber where the it is mixed with air and chilled to just above freezing. The aeration and temperature are what give soft-serve its characteristic velvety smooth texture.

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So why would soft serve become crystalized? Unfortunately, crystallization can happen for a variety of reasons, such as improper mixing, less-than-ideal aeration, or changes in the milk-fat ratios. However, the most common reason for crystallization happens because of improper cleaning.

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Yes, you read that right. If the machine is dirty, it can dole out bad-tasting ice cream. After a day of service, ice cream is removed from the machines and the interiors have to be thoroughly cleaned. If there is residue from the previous soft serve or moisture wasn’t properly removed from the machine’s interior, the residual soft serve or water can alter the new batch of ice cream.

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Improper cleaning can also lead to decreased aeration, further altering the taste and texture of the soft serve.

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While you can’t alter the state of your local ice cream place, flavors that have higher turnover can be cleaned more effectively (at the end of a night’s service, there’ll be less ice cream to remove from the bases, which means it’ll be easier and more effectively cleaned). While this is an ick thing to consider, don’t let it deter you, many places practice good and effective cleaning and maintenance of their machines.