Featured Article by Steve Thompson, President, Emery Thompson Machine; 

reproduced from The National Dipper Magazine, Jul/Aug 2016 issue, p. 14.

If the accountant is right and we can’t get the business up and running again, we can always take one of our machines and sell Italian Ice. It might not be foo foo enough to get us membership at Mar-a-Lago, but it sure will make enough money for us to buy the place if we want to!”  I believed in that statement then and eleven years later I believe in it even more. We have put thousands of people into business selling Italian Ices and making (H)UGE profits!


So what is Italian ice and why should you sell it in your store, truck or push cart? Let’s start with the name. Ices have a bunch of different names and they all consist of sugar, water and flavor. In New York we call it Italian ice. Philadelphia calls it Italian Water Ice. In Rhode Island and Massachusetts it’s called Slush. The River Café, the Four Seasons and other high end restaurants call it Sorbet (sore-bay). Gelaterias call it Sorbetto. At Disney, Six Flags, Universal and Sea World it’s called Frozen Lemonade. And in Alabama it’s called Greek Ices because five Greek brothers left Brooklyn for Alabama and said, “Hey, we’re not Italian, why should we call it Italian ice?” Call it what you like, it’s still sugar, water and flavor.


There are three levels of Italian ice and in your business you will most likely use all three. The first is fresh fruit. I actually like to use fresh frozen fruit. Strawberries, blueberries – they are all seasonal. I need to extend my ices season beyond these limited times. Fresh fruit can be found quick frozen and put into bags (no added nothing) in the ice cream section of most supermarkets. The prices are good and the availability is when you want them. To this I add sugar and water. Just that simple. Here is a formula for blueberry/ banana Italian ice:

32 oz.  Blueberries – instant quick frozen

4-1/2  lbs. ripe bananas

48 oz. water

1 lb. sugar

1 oz. Lemon juice and zest

Just throw everything into you batch freezer and in about 15 minutes you have six quarts of a fantastically fresh ice! For larger machines - double the formula accordingly.


The next level of Italian ices is using a base. A base is a gallon jug of flavor that is perfect for those hard to do flavors like Root Beer or my favorite – Mango

1 quart Mango Base

4 quarts water

1-3/4 lbs. sugar

Again, all goes into the batch freezer and 15 minutes later – the best Mango Ice you’ve ever eaten. Six quart yield. For a 24 quart batch freezer multiply the formula X’s four.


The lowest and cheapest way to make ice is using an extract. I hear lots of people say, “oh, I would never lower myself to just use a cheap extract.” Oh, yeah? Well the last time I looked out the window we didn’t have any bubble gum trees growing and the cotton candy bushes got wiped out in that hard freeze last winter. So, if you want to have flavors that children ask for – use an extract. Also, just ask any chef and they’ll tell you that trying to make a Cantaloupe, Honey Dew or even Watermelon ice is a real nightmare. You squeeze any of these fruits all you get is water! You need an extract to bolster the flavor. Nowadays you can even get all natural extracts and colors from a company that has a name that Bernie Sanders would approve of. (Hint: Where is the Bern from?)


Now let’s look at the types of ices:

Italian ice

Cream ice

Fresh fruit Sorbet


Frozen lemonade


Ice Cream Ices

Dairy Free Ice Cream


Italian ice is easy: sugar water and flavor. But why are some ices smoother than others with the same ingredients. Is it the machinery? Yes!... Ah, well,… actually, no. It’s the sugar. Here’s and example: In NYC my lemon ice formula for a 24 quart batch freezer is 7 lbs. of sugar, 14 quarts tap water and 2 quarts fresh squeezed lemon juice. Oh, and if you’re really good – the zest of 6 lemons. (Zest is the little pieces of shaved off lemon peel. It does nothing for the flavor but it looks great against this pure white lemon ice. People have paid $10,000.00 for that formula and now you have it for just reading the National Dipper. Down the Jersey Turnpike in Philadelphia (don’t call it Philly – they hate that) the product is called Italian WATER ice. They like their product smoother. The way to do this is add one more pound of sugar. It won’t necessarily be sweeter but it will be smoother. Back up to Brooklyn and Bay 8th Street where everyone speaks Italian, the same product is icy and crunchy. They call it Granita. It has one less pound of sugar than over in Manhattan – 6 lbs for the same formula.


Cream ice is the an Italian Ice formula with a bit of cream added to give it more body and smoothness. It’s technically not a sherbet – it’s a Cream ice. Here’s one of my formulas for Coconut cream ice:

12 oz. sugar

2 qts. water

30 oz. Cream of Coconut

16 oz. Heavy Cream

3 Tbsp. shredded sweetened coconut

Splash of Vanilla


You can substitute ice cream mix for the heavy cream – just take the 12 oz. of sugar down to 8 oz. as there is sugar in the mix. The yield is 6 quarts.


Fresh fruit Sorbet/Sorbetto is Italian ice with a fancy name and a fancier price tag. Don’t let anyone tell you different – Sorbetto is sugar, water and flavor!...and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist (or a fancy chef) to make it. The big difference between Italian ice and Sorbet/Sorbetto is the flavors. Italian ice is lemon, cherry, watermelon, mango, grape and chocolate. Sorbet/Sorbetto is pear, apricot, kiwi, grapefruit, raspberries, etc. More high brow… but still Italian ice. On a street corner I can get two bucks for a squeeze cup of lemon ice. At an art festival I can get $6.00 for a Lemon Sorbet. Here’s one I made in my class the other day:

Strawberry Champagne Sorbet:

5 lbs. frozen strawberries  - puree them for a more intense flavor

One bottle of very inexpensive champagne

3 1/2 quarts water

12 oz. sugar

The yield is six quarts. The frozen strawberries are better than fresh. I think all the good strawberries go to the restaurants and we get the ones that taste like cardboard.


Frozen Lemonade and Slush

Slush (not the stuff you get at 7/11 is big in Massachusetts’s and Rhode Island. It’s my lemon ice formula with only 5 lbs of sugar. It’s bland and boring…but it sells a lot of product so I guess you gotta love it. Frozen Lemonade like Slush is sold soft and served in a 16 ounce cup. On a hot hot day at Universal Studios Orlando, nothing cools the family off like 16 ounces of sugar water!


Cream Ices

Larry Silvestro of Ralph’s ices in Staten Island is the one who has perfected what I call Ice Cream Ices. High dairy fat ice creams in 90 degree temperatures and 95% humidity (where I call home) will make you sweat and give you a stomach ache. The body just can’t take that much fat in this heat. Super premium ice cream parlors don’t do well in this climate. That’s why, when I make ice cream I use the Federal minimum and still be able to call it “ice cream” I use 10%. So, Larry saw this problem and said, “Why can’t we make ice cream products out of sugar and water.” So there you go…..Oreo Cookie Italian ice (politically correct – cookies and cream); Peanut Butter and Jelly Italian ice; Mint Chip Italian ice. Isn’t this a great idea??? They are so refreshing….and inexpensive – actually cheap! Thank you Larry!

Here is my formula (not Ralph’s ices -  I would never steal from a customer) for:

Peanut Butter and Jelly Italian Ice made on a 24 quart batch freezer:

24 oz. Chunky peanut butter – I prefer Smuckers

2 lbs / 12 oz. cane sugar

3 qts. water

24 oz. ice cream blend (mix)

1 Quart grape jelly

1 oz. Vanilla extract

Make this at the end of the day because peanut butter is so sticky it gets all over everything!

Dairy Free Ice Cream

There is one other type of Italian ice that is made by the Millennials and those generally west of the Hudson River. Did I say that delicately enough? I don’t want to lose a “uge” segment of my market. The product is DAIRY FREE ICE CREAM. There I said it. I think I hear the black Chevy Suburban’s coming to take me away right now. The Feds, (bless their hearts – that’s southern for a Bronx Cheer) say you cannot call a product Ice Cream unless it contains 10% milk fat or higher. But we’re calling it Dairy Free Ice Cream. The base is sugar or agave or maple syrup or honey and coconut water and flavor. It is cholesterol free, dairy free, fat free, can be vegan. Perfect for our new wave of ice cream makers. It is super refreshing. Here is a great way to make coconut water.

Buy a big bag of shredded coconut and put it in a big pot of boiling water. Turn off the heat and let it sit overnight. All the flavor will leach out of the coconut and give you a very good and very healthy batch of coconut water. Oh, and throw the coconut away as it no longer has any flavor. In my opinion “Dairy Free” ice creams are a true trend and not a fad like frozen yogurt. Dairy free will work nicely in your dipping cabinet along with your traditional ice creams.


Best ways to hold and serve ices

Here’s where we get into some controversy depending on who you talk to. I believe that ices should be made fresh as often as possible. Yes, I can store ices for weeks and months with no problem – cold is the world’s oldest and still best preservative. BUT if you have a tub of bubble gum licorice ices in your freeze at 10 below zero that is six months old - it’s  probably as good as the day you made it but your customer s are telling you they don’t like bubblegum licorice Italian ice. It’s been sitting there for months and months – get rid of it!! Makes sense, right? Now if you’re one of my giant wholesale customers, maybe you do want to make ice in April to sell in July. But you shouldn’t be! You should wake up on Thursday, get a cup of coffee and turn on the Weather Channel. What’s the weather going to be for the weekend. Bright sunshine and balmy temperatures – get down to the store and make batches of ices to sell. A hurricane coming in -  cut back on how much you make. Oh, and don’t forget it’s the Weather Channel -  they are almost always wrong. So if that 4th storm of the century missed your locale and you need a tub of lemon ice at 2PM Saturday, you can still make it at 1:30 PM and be ready to go. Frozen desserts are a weather dependent business.


Ices come out of a batch freezer at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus depending on the sugar content and can go into an inexpensive chest freezer (about $500 at Sears for a big one) until ready to serve. I normally keep this freezer at about zero degrees F. The night before or a few hours before serving, move it to a simple non glass top dipping cabinet set at about 16 degrees. This is ten degrees warmer than your hard ice cream. If you have a lot of chemicals in your ice, then you can easily store it at the same temperature as your ice cream…. But I stick to sugar, water and flavor. I don’t use the glass dipping cabinets because at these warmer temperatures the solid cabinets (I call them floppy lid cabinets) hold their temperature better. You can order a cabinet with a warmer thermostat or even take an old cabinet and retro-fit it. When serving ice cream or ices keep in mind that your cabinet has 4 cold spots – the four corners of the cabinet. The box can be set for 6 degrees overall (16 for ices) but it is colder in the corners because the tub of product is being hit by two walls of cold instead of the middle of the cabinet that has only one wall of cold. So, put your higher sugar content ices or ice creams in the corners and your vanilla, coffee or lemon ice in the center of the cabinet. In this way all tubs will scoop the same.


Ices are cultural

If four people walked into my office right now and I had to guess their favorite flavor of ice cream – I couldn’t do it. I have no idea. Ices are different. They have a cultural background to them. If you are in Little Italy NYC, the number one selling flavor will be lemon. In fact everything is called lemon ice. It’s not uncommon to hear “gimmie a blueberry Lemon Ice.” Up in Harlem the #1 flavors will be cherry and grape. At the Hispanic day parade up 5th Avenue you’ll be selling coconut based ices. And in Riverdale, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, the flavor of choice will be chocolate. Imagine planning a fair or festival and knowing in advance what flavors to bring! Are you doing an art festival? Bring pear and kiwi. Oh, and if you’re a Presbyterian like me, you’ll form a committee to make the decision for you – we can’t make decisions on our own.


Italian ices by what ever name you call them are a tremendous low cost addition to your repertoire of frozen desserts. On a hot summer day, nothing is more refreshing than a fresh made sugar, water and flavor Italian ice.


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​​Oh how I love to talk about Italian Ice!What’s not to love – you produce a 4 ounce cup for about 10 cents and sell it for $2.00.Talk about profit margins! After all your main ingredient is water followed by sugar followed by flavor.


Quick story: In 2005 I sold our 44,000 sq. ft. factory in the Bronx to become a parking garage and moved all of Emery Thompson’s operations to two new factories in a little town called BrooksvilleFlorida. Talk about frightening. Our fancy NYC accountant said that you cannot move a hundred year old business anywhere let alone to Florida. So as Paula, Sadie the Golden and I crossed the George Washington Bridge with six tractor trailers filled  with the entire contents of Emery Thompson behind us, we were a bit nervous to say the least. I turned to Paula (who had 72 pound Sadie on her lap) and said,

Italian Ice: and Why You Should Be Selling It!