America’s love affair with soft serve ice cream has been around for decades, and while this treat is particularly refreshing on hot summer days, savvy foodservice operators know that it is an in-demand dessert all year long. If you are considering purchasing a soft serve ice cream machine for your restaurant, cafe, buffet or convenience store, there are a few important things to make note of.

Soft serve is a type of ice cream or frozen desert, such as yoghurt, custard, sorbet, that hasn’t been hard frozen but instead is made by adding air to the ice cream mix, increasing its volume by up to 45%. The combination of higher temperature (around 18º F) and more air gives the ice cream a creamier consistency and makes it easy to dispense. The amount of air in soft-serve ice cream is called overrun. A soft-serve product with a 35% overrun has 35% air mixed into the liquid mixture as it freezes, so one 1 gallon of ice cream mix will yield 1.35 gallons of soft-serve ice cream.

Energy Efficiency

Soft serve ice cream machines work efficiently to freeze and add air (volume) to special liquid soft serve ice cream mixtures. Machines run at a temperature around 18 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping the ice cream not only frozen, but at proper storage temperatures. Because of this, these machines must run both day and night to prevent any changes in consistency or health code violations. To ensure minimal utility bills, look for energy-efficient models with the ENERGY STAR® seal.

Different Sizes

Smaller service operations that want to being offering soft serve ice cream often own modest counter-top machines, which allow an employee to refill and make new batches as needed. Buffet and sundae bars are usually self-service, and these operations typically purchase large, freestanding machines to maintain a higher volumes of ice cream. Larger machines, however, cost more to purchase, operate and maintain as well.

Features & Options

There are a variety of features and options that be examined when researching soft-serve ice cream machines:

  • Soft serve Machines come with either a gravity-feed or a pressurized feed. Gravity-fed machines require staff to manually load liquid ice cream mix into a hopper located on top of the machines, and gravity does the rest. Pressurized machines use pumps to supply the freezing cylinder.
  • The freezing cylinder and the dasher bar that mixes the product is at the heart of the soft-serve ice cream machine’s functionality. Pay attention to your machine’s design and how these two features work together.
  • Newer machines can come with optional touch-pad LED displays to set temperature and consistency of the ice cream. Once set, the machine automatically adjusts to save time when switching mixtures.
  • Some machines feature a safety mechanism to prevent compressor burnout. Some units shut down if no one responds to the alert within a certain amount of time, and others yet shoot hot refrigerant gas from the condenser to the barrel to keep it from freezing solidly when the mix is too low.