It's Time to Show Rum Raisin Ice Cream the Respect It Deserves

In defense of the original boozy ice cream

July 2, 2020 8:18 am
rum raisin ice cream
Show some respect, please.

Boozy ice cream is having a moment right now. Various brands have been releasing flavors inspired by wines and liqueurs for a few years now, including Häagen-Dazs’s Spirits collection, featuring flavors like Rosé & Cream and Irish Cream Brownie, while Truly hard seltzer just dropped a line of hard ice cream and sorbet that will actually get you buzzed — each pint has as much alcohol as a can of hard seltzer.

But while the trend appears to be reaching new heights, this is far from the first time ice cream and alcohol have crossed paths. Back when seltzer was just fizzy water and wine and ice cream only mixed in rom-com post-breakup wallowing scenes, you could go down to ye olde ice cream shop and order yourself a scoop of rum raisin.

While rum raisin ice cream may sound like a dated, vaguely nauseating relic from the last century that a cartoonish parody of an old person would murmur about incoherently on a TV show, the flavor’s availability among American consumers is actually relatively recent. Häagen-Dazs is generally credited with introducing the flavor to the mainstream American market in the early 80s. The flavor, which Noelle Perillo, a public relations manager for the brand’s parent company, calls “a truly unique offering in the U.S. ice cream market,” quickly became a fan favorite. Häagen-Dazs still sells rum raisin today, and it’s not totally uncommon to find it at an ice cream parlor.

There’s only one problem. People hate it. Or, rather, they seem to hate the idea of it. While Perillo tells InsideHook the flavor’s popularity has remained consistent among devoted rum raisin lovers over time, even seeing a 37-percent increase in sales in the past decade, the cultural conversation surrounding rum raisin — yes, there is such a thing — seems to have soured somewhat.

“Imagine going out to get ice cream and ordering rum raisin,” reads a presumably skeptical tweet, while another even goes as far as to declare rum raisin “the saddest ice cream flavor,” asking, “Who the hell wants raisins in their ice cream????”

Meanwhile, one of Twitter’s lone rum raisin defenders, who tweeted “People who don’t like rum and raisin ice cream <<<<<,” was met with swift mockery by a fellow user, who countered, “People who like rum and raisin ice cream <<<<<”

Somehow, younger consumers just don’t seem to have the same wide-eyed enthusiasm for rum-soaked raisins with which their boomer and Gen X parents greeted the flavor back in the ’80s. But why?

The Raisin Problem

“The issue, it seems,” as contends a blog post from Stuart Brothers Limited, a West Indies-based manufacturer of flavoring concentrates, “is not the rum but the raisin, which has become decidedly unsexy.”

Indeed, while we seem more willing to accept the raisin’s hotter cousin, the dried cranberry, people tend to be pretty turned off by raisins — and that’s putting it gently.

In 2015, a group of food editors comprising a Huffpost “Raisin Roundtable” found that any raisin lovers present felt a great deal of shame about their affinity for the “dried, shriveled grapes” with “a tendency to ruin a good thing.” And while one Redditor trying to get to the bottom of the raisin hate suggested the aversion was a specifically American one, a Cosmopolitan UK article managed to round up 18 reasons “why raisins ruin everything.”

Asked, with no context, why everyone hates raisins, my friend immediately fired off a handful of the dried fruit’s most punishable offenses. “The deceit in cookies? When they’re unexpectedly in a savory dish?” she suggested. “I think maybe they just show up where people think they aren’t invited, and they’re not really good enough on their own.”

And yet, therein lies the most perplexing aspect of the great raisin aversion. If we all hate raisins so much, how and why do they keep showing up in things? For raisins to remain so prevalent in the face of apparent mass hatred, surely there must have been a time when raisins were sexy.

And there was. According to the New York Times, the first California Dancing Raisins commercial aired in 1986 to massive success. Raisin sales boomed, but the commercial wasn’t just a hit with your average American consumer. The dancing raisins were bonafide stars who rubbed shoulders with celebrities and politicians. Paul McCartney reportedly asked for a personal taped copy of the commercial (because it was the ‘80s and he couldn’t just watch it on YouTube). The raisins were invited to the White House for Christmas. Even Michael Jackson, who had a different legacy at that time, wanted to be a raisin. Raisins were sexy.

“Raisin growers today still ask if the dancing raisins will ever return to the stage,” says Matthew Malcom, editor of American Vineyard magazine. “And no one really knows.”

Buf fame is fleeting, and somewhere along the line, we seem to have soured on the raisin, and with it, on rum raisin ice cream.

Make Raisins Sexy Again

I’m here to tell you, however, that rum raisin ice cream has been unfairly maligned. Not only is it actually quite good, but it’s sophisticated. Rum raisin ice cream is ice cream for adults, adults who aren’t afraid of dried fruit and are smart enough not to mistake it for chocolate.

Moreover, we have rum raisin to thank for the wide variety of boozy ice cream available today. Perillo cites the flavor as an inspiration behind Häagen-Dazs’s Spirits collection, calling rum raisin “a huge part” of the founder Reuben Mattus’ early expansion into “inventive flavors that continue to differentiate the brand.”

So this summer, whether you’re scooping rosé all day or getting drunk on pints of Truly, remember that we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for rum raisin, the father of the modern boozy ice cream trend.

Fortunately, Malcolm thinks we’re on the precipice of a great raisin renaissance. “The industry is on the verge of big changes,” he tells InsideHook, though it’s worth noting that he doesn’t seem to agree that raisins ever fell out of fashion at all.

“I really don’t believe people in general have any issue with raisins,” he says. (Who’s gonna tell him?)

Either way, we will all one day become the raisins to a new generation of dried cranberries. Raisins were sexy once, too. Show some respect.


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