Do you know the accidental origin of Dippin’ Dots?

Dippin’ Dots are an amusement park, zoo, aquarium and overall summertime staple. The mini balls of ice cream that melt in your mouth are also a childhood favorite. But where did the “ice cream of the future” come from? Well, the answer has a little something to do with cows (and it’s not just the dairy).

It’s remarkable the amount of things that are invented by accident. The most famous, and indeed most important, was the world’s first antibiotic, penicillin. When Alexander Fleming returned from a vacation and found mold growing in a petri dish in his laboratory, he could have never imagined how many millions of lives would be saved by failing to clean up. 

Other ubiquitous products discovered by accident include Velcro, smoke detectors, Coca-Cola and a little explosive known as dynamite. We can also throw Dippin’ Dots onto the list. 

dippin' dots origin cows

If you go to a large event in the United States in the summer, Dippin Dots’ are likely being sold by a vendor. The mini ice cream balls have been commonplace since the 1990s, but their creation came in 1988, when a man in Kentucky named Curt Jones was working to make cattle feed more efficient. 

Jones was a specialist in cryogenics, and his breakthrough came when he flash-froze cattle feed at around -350°F (-212°C) and it produced smaller beads of the cattle feed. Naturally, as a dessert lover, Jones decided to plunge ice cream into the same extreme temperatures. Sure enough, the same thing happened. The small frozen balls melted in the mouth and the Dippin’ Dots product was born. 

Read More: When Italy waged a war on pasta

The company began in Jones’ parents’ garage and by the 1990s vendors were selling them at events. Most of the early issues the company faced surrounded the temperature they needed to be stored, which was far colder than regular ice cream. This is why they are typically not sold at shops, but rather in specialized stalls that can keep them cold.

From freezing cattle feed to a company worth hundreds of millions… Not a bad little trick for Curt Jones to stumble upon.

If you liked this Great Big Story, we think you’ll like hearing about another ice cream origin. This time, meet Mikey Cole, who opened his pop culture-inspired shop down the street from where he grew up.

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