From its murky origins to its even more mysterious flavor profile, we’re digging into Michigan’s all-time favorite ice cream flavor: Superman.
MICHIGAN — It’s National Ice Cream Month, ’Ganders, and as a veteran scoopster with three seasons of service under my belt, I could tell you a thing or two about summer’s best sweet. But I came to this piece with more questions than answers, because even those behind the ice cream cases are pretty clueless about Michigan’s favorite flavor: Superman.
According to a study WorkWise software published in May 2019, Michigan is the only state where Superman’s the overall favorite, beating out the number one flavor across the nation — cookies and cream.
But do Michiganders even know what goes into their all-time favorite flavor of ice cream? In my experience as a server at Kilwins Ice Cream and Chocolate Shoppe in Ann Arbor, rumors abounded on either side of the case surrounding the exact flavors of the red, yellow, and blue ice creams that, when swirled together, make up Superman.
The prevailing word among my cohort of Kilwins staff was that the red ice cream was cherry-flavored, the yellow was lemon, and the blue was … nutmeg. Nutmeg?! Well, I’m just telling you what I heard. It goes to show that even though Superman ice cream is hailed as a Michigan tradition, its history — and even its recipe — is shrouded in mystery.
So let’s take a dive into some facts, figures, and straight up hearsay surrounding Michigan’s favorite flavor.
5 Things You Might Not Know About Superman Ice Cream:
1. Stroh’s Brewery is widely credited with inventing Superman ice cream.
When Prohibition hit America in 1920, Stroh’s Brewery in Detroit pivoted big time to stay in business: Chef and food blogger Laura Ritterman writes that founder Julius Stroh quickly rebranded to Stroh Products Company and began selling soft drinks, birch beer, ice cream, and malt products. Although the exact origins of Superman remain elusive, many trace it back to subsidiary business Stroh Ice Cream Company.
2. The original recipe paid homage to another well-loved Michigan brand.
Stroh’s version of Superman included three flavors, according to Atlas Obscura: lemon, Blue Moon, and Red Pop, based on Faygo’s classic strawberry soda. Read about the history of Faygo pop from the Detroit Historical Society.
3. Unlocking the secret of Blue Moon ice cream may lead to more definitive answers on Superman.
Fans of Superman ice cream seem to have narrowed down the most common red and yellow flavors, arriving at black cherry, strawberry, or Red Pop and lemon or vanilla respectively. But it’s the blue ice cream in Superman that remains the biggest mystery: Some swear it’s almond extract, some taste Froot Loops, still others suspect marshmallows. And the several purveyors that sell the flavor throughout the Midwest keep their proprietary blends under lock and key — so today’s versions of Superman remain a sweet secret.
4. Superman ice cream was invented before the first appearance of the comic strip superhero.
So, Superman ice cream was invented during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 through 1933. But Superman the action hero first appeared in Action Comics #1, which came out in 1938. What was the red, yellow, and blue treat called before the Man of Steel arrived on the scene? It’s lost to history (or at least to Google). But one thing’s for sure: DC Comics hasn’t granted any brand a license to officially carry their character’s name. That’s why you’ll see names like “Super Hero,” “SuperScoop,” and “Scooperman” in ice cream parlors and grocery stores across the state. (Look out for Stroh’s rebranded version, “Super Rainbow.”)
5. Whatever the exact flavors are, Midwestern kids love it.
Despite its rarity outside the Midwest, reports Atlas Obscura, Superman ice cream is so ubiquitous in Michigan, Wisconsin, and surrounding states that locals often grow up thinking it’s universally popular. But kids in Virginia probably grow up thinking the same of tiger tail ice cream, which, according to WorkWise, is the top flavor there — and kids in Pennsylvania grow up on teaberry-flavored ice cream. It all comes down to regional experience.
So let’s embrace what really makes a Michigan summer and go grab a cone of the good stuff.
Here’s where you can find Superman around the state (just remember to call ahead to make sure it’s in current rotation):
Kilwins Ice Cream and Chocolate Shoppe | Ann Arbor
107 E Liberty St
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Tasty Twist | East Lansing
1137 E Grand River Ave
East Lansing, MI 48823
The Parlor | Jackson
1401 Daniel Rd
Jackson, MI 49202
Hill Top Soda Shop | Benzonia
7117 South St
Benzonia, MI 49616
Frostie Freeze | L’Anse
507 E Broad St
L’Anse, MI 49946