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What Is a Snow Cone? Shave Ice vs. the Snow Cone

The History of Snow Cones and Shave Ice

Shave ice or shaved ice?

Snow cone or Sno-Kone? Snow ball?

What’s the difference, and why all the fuss? In the concessions industry, people have strong opinions. We’re taking a closer look at the history of these tasty frozen treats.

Hawaiian Shave Ice

When Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii to work on sugar plantations in the 1880s, they brought with them the tradition of kaki-gori, or sweetened shaved ice.1 It quickly became a staple on the islands and now can be enjoyed at concession stands throughout the US, thanks to commercial ice shavers.

It’s traditionally flavored with tropical syrups and is made with finely shaved ice, but those in the industry are quick to point out that the proper name is “shave ice” – without the “d.”

Regional Shave Ice Variations

Outside Hawaii, shave ice goes by different names.

The Baltimore Snowball

The origins of icy treats in the contiguous US are steeped in myth and lore. On the east coast, according to Baltimore legend, when ice trucks and trains went through the city in the 1800s, transporting large ice blocks from New York to the South, children chased the wagons and begged for ice shavings.

It became a tradition – so mothers started to make their own flavorings for the next time the truck came around. The favorite topping was egg custard, created with eggs, vanilla, and sugar, a flavor variety still replicated today.2 Businesses began to catch on and sold “snowballs” as a tasty treat during the hot summer months, especially at movie theaters.

Sno-Balls in the Big Easy

New Orleans also has a claim to fame in the beginnings of shave ice – in the 1930s, Ernest Hansen and George Ortolano invented electric ice shavers independently of each other. Hansen opened his own shop, Hansen’s Sno-Blitz, which is still in operation today.3

So What Is a Snow Cone?

Entirely a different culinary experience from shave ice, there’s the snow cone. Whereas shave ice’s trademark characteristic is its finely shaved, snow-like texture, snow cones, ironically, are more like ice. The crushed ice creates a crunchier snack that is traditionally coated in sweet syrups and doesn’t absorb the flavoring like shaved ice.

Snow cones appeared for the first time in 1919 at the Texas state fair, and in 1920, Samuel Bert patented an ice crusher machine.4 Gold Medal Products Co., which had been manufacturing ice shavers since the 1930s, built its first Sno-Kone® machine in 1948. The brand came to be synonymous with the icy treat and the product line expanded to include equipment, accessories, and supplies.

Taste, Toppings, and Public Perception

Today shave ice is perceived as a higher-value treat than snow cones, and it’s often offered with add-on toppings like condensed milk, soft-serve ice cream, fresh fruit, or even marshmallow creme. Food costs are generally a bit higher than with snow cones, but in turn, businesses can charge higher prices for this high-value snack.

Snow cones are associated more with childhood, and kids tend to love the way syrups pool toward the bottom of the cup, making the last few bites the sweetest and most flavorful. Popular snow cone syrups include Tiger Blood, a mixture of watermelon and strawberry, and Blue Raspberry.

For both types of frozen treats, profit margins can be 80% or higher, making a snow cone or shave ice stand a lucrative endeavor for entrepreneurs entering the concessions industry.

Considering starting your own concession stand? Here are some things to keep in mind.