Superman Ice Cream: “A Michigan Thing”

When Serious Eats described Superman ice cream, my favorite childhood flavor, as “a Michigan Thing,” I was both excited and reassured. Finally, I understood why I could never find it during my time on the East Coast.  A few phone calls to out-of-state friends and a quick google search provided validation that Superman ice cream is virtually unknown outside the midwest.  

But naturally, I wanted to know more. When was it invented?  Who whipped up the original recipe? What is that magical flavor combination?

As for that the last question, the Internet provides a response as varied and contradictory as the interviewees in my video (above).  I have scanned message boards and watched creepy videos featuring less-than-sober individuals attempting to isolate Superman’s flavor. The mystery remains.

Pinpointing the origins of Superman ice cream has proven to be equally elusive.  The blue appears to descend from Blue Moon, an ice cream originally made in South Haven, Michigan…or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, depending on who you believe.  But who was the first to mimic Superman’s colors by mixing the blue with the red and yellow?  

The best answer I’ve found so far comes from Jim Karnopp, owner of Ypsilanti’s Cafe Luwak, who says he’s pretty sure the original recipe came from Stroh’s, the famous (now defunct) Detroit brewery, who began producing ice cream during prohibition.  So should I thank prohibition for indirectly spawning Superman ice cream?  A deliciously bizarre possibility, but one I have been unable to verify through phone calls with representatives of Pabst (current owners of Stroh’s Beer) or Dean Foods (ditto for Stroh’s Ice Cream). 

Didn’t the Internet put an end to mysteries like this?  

Sure, there will always be BIG unanswerable questions (i.e. “Is there a god?,” “Who shot Kennedy?,” “Is Tom Cruise an alien?,” etc.). But the best thing about the Internet, aside from resurrecting the intro to Small Wonder, is that it put an end to those nagging, oft-debated, previously unverifiable questions.  Is there really a University of Michigan flag on the moon?  No (sadly).  Did Frank Lloyd Wright’s son really invent Lincoln Logs?  Yes (surprisingly).  But as to the origins of Superman ice cream, the web responds with deafening silence.  

Whoever thought it would be Superman ice cream to bring the Internet to its knees.  

Well, I may not have definitively identified its birthplace.  But I have seen a guy from Owendale reference Superman ice cream while (horribly) rapping about his hometown.  I have found a newspaper documenting its poplarity in Monroe in 1989.  I’ve even read the blog of a mom from Northern Michigan, who said this

“Honestly, I can’t imagine raising a child in a world without Superman Ice Cream.”

–and I’ve arrived at the same description Serious Eats had already settled on: 

“It’s a Michigan thing.”

___________________________________________________

Bonus Material from the eDepths (BMfeD):  Ever wanted to see a tattoo of a Monkey eating Superman ice cream?  Me too.  How about a quiet and very sad short film where the main character connects with a dead parent…by eating Superman ice cream? Not so much?  How about a cute Baby eating Superman ice cream for the first time?  Awwwwwwwww. Never fails.

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53 Responses to “Superman Ice Cream: “A Michigan Thing””

  1. Wonderful post, Quinn. I loved this! Wonderful blog, too. I’ll definitely be back.

  2. What a great Blog and great story! Keep up the good work!

  3. What a great, and needed, blog! Michigan is a wonderful state, and more people need to know more about it.

    I have never eaten Superman ice cream. (Shocking but true.) However, I have had Blue Moon, and in fact we were just discussing the Blue Moon flavor factor at our house the other day. A Blue Moon milkshake in a frosted vintage milkshake glass…now, that would be cool.

  4. I LOVED Superman ice cream as a kid. My grandparents lived in Sault Ste. Marie, MI and all of the ice cream shops had it there. I have seen some visual impostors out east, but they don’t even compare in flavor.

  5. I didn’t realize Superman was a Michigan thing either, until recently – when I brought it up with some folks from the East Coast. I remember, you could always find it next to Blue Moon and Peppermint. Those same folks were also the ones to inform me that Stroh’s was a midwestern thing.

    Looking forward to a piece on that other strange Michigan institution: the Coney Island.

  6. Woooo! My little girl is an internet star…the good kind! :)

  7. Heather Says:

    Being able to pass down the tradition of eating Superman ice cream during the mid-summer to my son is so great…now if I could only say the same for being able to pass down the tradition of eating Vernor’s ice cream at Sanders. I mean, whatever happened to Vernor’s ice cream? If I ever find it again, I am buying a freezer just so I can keep it stocked.

  8. Awesomeness. I posted a link on my site.

  9. Quinn – this is great, reminds me of the old days!

  10. It sounded delicious until you said it tastes like Michigan. Did you get Sin Der Ella’s digits?

  11. Blue Moon is an obsession of mine, and a summer staple. I could never describe the flavor until Meijer started carrying it in the ice cream section- this is what they say: “Blue vanilla ice cream with custard, citrus and spice flavors.” I don’t know about that, but there you go!

  12. I have had the same experience with the Superman Shot (equal parts bailey’s, blue curacao, and amaretto, tastes just like the ice cream). When I attempted to order it in a few bars in Chicago the bartenders looked at me like an idiot, but a Michigan bartender has never failed to make it.

  13. I’m another adoring fan of Blue Moon. My current favorite comes from Kilwin’s. But if I can’t get Blue Moon, I’ll get Superman.

  14. Morrisa Says:

    I grew up in Saginaw with Mooney’s Superman, Bubble Gum, and Blue Moon rounding off my top 3 most nostalgic ice creams. Yes they are odd, but damn good. As said, “It’s a Michigan thing!” I’m now thing in Japan and have a diverse palate (Blue Seal *uji” sugar cane ice cream is the BEST) but there are those foods that will throw you back to when you were 5 y/o. This is one of them. Great blog Quinn.

  15. I happened upon your post and thought you might be interested to know that I fell in love with Superman ice cream in Colorado. They only sell it in one store and only in the large plastic tubs, but yes we have it and yes it is amazing!

    • Where did you get it in CO? I’m from Michigan and have been searching for it in CO for the past few years ive been here and havent found it

      • Jenni Rich Says:

        Sorry just happen back and saw this. We found it at King Soopers but like I said only in the big gallon size. It’s been awhile I don’t live there anymore but good luck.

  16. I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life and for as long as I can remember we have always had Superman ice cream. My first memory of Superman was when I was little kid going to a public swimming pool in Virginia and they sold it there. I have always loved Superman, its my favorite! I actually had it yesterday. Its not very hard to find around here. The local Dairy Cheer has it and you can find it in some stores sold in ice cream tubs. Though, I have never even heard of Blue Moon.

  17. Oh where to begin?? First, excellent job writing this! Second, Stroh’s was NOT the first to make Superman ice cream. Third, you are VERY correct in saying that Superman can almost only be found in MI because one of the ingredients can only be found in MI… thats right guys I do in fact have the original recipe. I have made it several times and it always comes out tasting exactly how it should. If you’ve been to Meijer’s you can find the best tasting flavor there, or head to the small family owned ice cream stands, those are the only places to really get that perfect taste. DO NOT buy the big 2 gallon tubs they sell in the grocery store, its just NOT the same!

    To the writer of this blog, if you would like a little more insight on the distinct flavors that make up the wonderful thing that is Superman Ice Cream, feel free to contact me. I think maybe you deserve a break if you’ve tried this hard to find it.

    • I would love to know what they put in ingredients from michigan they put in it i grew up in mi live in fl now and i am pregnant and would like to try and make it

    • samiamtoo Says:

      Cassandra, I hope this is not too late.It has been almost a year since your post about superman ice cream. My son has been in love with superman ice cream since birth. He is now 21, and it’s the only flavor he will eat. I would love to know the recipe, as i have recently acquired a ice cream maker. I can’t think of a better gift to give him. If I am not too late, could you please send me the recipe? Thanks in advance, Pam
      samiamtoo@gmail.com

  18. My husband and I have decided it’s just pistachio ice cream with coloring added to it. It tastes JUST LIKE pistachio ice cream, without the added crunch.

  19. yea, Superman is definitely not just a “Michigan” thing, I grew up eating it in Youngstown, Ohio (NE). There were alot of small mom and pop ice cream places that had it, then one day it just seemed to disappear. I haven’t seen it since…

  20. Also from Youngstown OH. The last place I could get Superman Ice Cream was K Mart in Austintown when they still had their snack concession in the front of the store. When they remodeled the store, the snack shack was gone and no more Superman Ice Cream. And I could really use some about now . . .

  21. Interesting stuff… Is there a big difference between superman ice cream and blue moon?

    I’m from Wisconsin and have only rarely seen superman ice cream.

  22. I enjoyed your post! :) I actually googled “superman ice cream” and you were the first link that popped up. I’m in search of it because my boyfriend grew up in Michigan and talks about that ice cream all the time. I’m looking to book a trip to Michigan (from Florida) for a weekend and take him to the ice cream store that sells it. It would be a surprise, so I can’t ask him for help. Is there any way you could help me locate the store? I don’t know anything about Michigan, so I’m not even sure where to start. :) Thanks in advance!

  23. Mike F (in Y-town) Says:

    Beautiful. This is truly a ground breaking story. I have always loved Superman. Also, to know that it hits so close to Michigan culture is truly heart warming and brain freezing.

  24. I Miss Michigan Says:

    Yum…I just googled the flavor as no one here on the west coast knows what I am talking about. I used to be the only “adult” ordering Superman Ice cream at the Washtenaw Dairy in Ann Arbor…I would get strange looks but knew I had picked the best flavor around and would not be disappointed. Now I live in Oregon and have been on the west coast almost as long as I lived in Michigan and always hold out hope for Superman or Bluemoon ice cream whenever I am on a road trip and stop at a small local ice cream parlor. Glad to know I can still find it when I get wack to Ypsi.

  25. Hey I am from Yorktown Virginia and loved superman ice cream it was my favorite. I can never find it anywhere but I remember eating it through out my whole child hood.

  26. Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. :)

    I’m Out! :)

  27. Elizabeth Moore Says:

    I grew up in Louisville, KY. Down the street from my house was a place called Ehrlers (not sure of the spelling) and they had Superman Ice Cream. I am pregnant with my 4th child and craving it like mad. I guess I have to go to Michigan!

  28. Great video John! Had a question for ya. As you know Valentines is coming up and I was hoping to get Superman Ice Cream for my GF. She’s a Detroit native as well. The only problem is we live in LA. I’ve been trying to track down Superman Ice Cream all over the internet and Southern Cali. Think you can help me out before the 14th? Thanks! :)

  29. Also a native of Mich, my family used to stop on the way up north for blue moon and superman and bubble gum at an ice cream place near bay city. or was it pinconning? probably both. glad to report that you can get a version of blue moon in Seattle at Full Tilt Ice Cream. They had many requests and decided to start making it! When I went in to ask for it, the guy asked me if I was from Mich :)

  30. I grew up visiting Torch Lake in the summers. My cousins and I went into town (Alden Mi) every day to get Superman ice cream at Higgin’s convenience store. The brand there is Hudsonville (im not sure it always was) and they changed the name to Super Scoop. i just recently moved to MI and found it in the grocery store. It is vanilla, blue moon, and black cherry flavors. they sell it in ohio, indiana, and michigan. The BEST ice cream ever, although it makes your poop green hahaha

  31. [...] I thought of this project well before these folks went out and made this video, but I still think it’s great and I will gladly exploit their hard work. Props to Serious Eats and The Mitten Blog. [...]

  32. Superman ice cream is the best! I got it everytime i hit the icecream shoppe in Ohio. Once i found it in a british food store in Tampa, FL so i never give up hope and always check for it. thanks for keeping it alive.

  33. Michigander Says:

    I live in Michigan, and you and everyone else are right. It really is a Michigan thing. My fiance used to live in Michigan and now lives in Virginia, and he is crazy about superman Ice Cream. Hes searched in every ice cream shop there, and asked people there if they’ve ever heard of the ice cream and its astonishing that no one has ever heard of it. So every time he comes to visit me, he has to have Superman Ice Cream.

  34. I found this site in a desperate search for rainbow flavored stroh’s icecream, which I believe was the original name of this concoction. I would love to know if its that simple that the superman is the predecessor. I would give my right leg for a taste of that rainbow icecream!!!

  35. Love the ice cream! I am from Michigan…live currently in Arizona. I found it a supermarket one day and totally got the huge plastic tub. I keep asking people if they have ever had it. Sadly, they haven’t had the pleasure, but I’m promoting it! Go Green!

    • Todd – where in AZ? I’m dying for Superman ice cream (and Better Mades). It’s the only ice cream I really LOVE!

  36. Oranje Mike Says:

    When I was a kid I would eat Superman ice cream with my cousin at my grandparents house in Garden City. We would mix it up and it would turn into an very unappetizing shade of gray. At this point would would pretend it was the horrible dish from Ernest Goes to Camp, eggs eronious.

  37. Lane Barber Says:

    Hello,

    I think Superman ice cream debuted about the same time as the original Superman movie came out. I remember first having it in Mackinaw City around 1976. I remember that because it was the Bicentennial — here you can Had a derivative of Superman ice cream called Uncle Sam which was red white and blue. Also want to use worked at an ice cream shop in northern lower Michigan in 1976 and 1977and my brother and I used to order milkshakes made with the Superman ice cream, back then.

  38. Hey there. Found your blog while google searching for Superman Ice Cream. I have a weird question for you. I live in Oregon and have a friend from Muskegon who loves Superman Ice Cream and of course we can’t get it here. I want to do something nice for her birthday, so I’m wondering if anyone knows of a place online that I can buy some sort of mix to make Superman Ice Cream at home. I know it is probably difficult with the three different flavors that you can’t describe, but it’s worth a shot. I tried calling Stroh’s Ice Cream Parlour in Bloomfield Hills but they didn’t know. If anyone has any idea if there is a way for me to do this, please let me know.

  39. michiganblues Says:

    I love this blog, I was researching Mooney’s Bubblegum ice cream. I am willing to pay to have it shipped (like I do with seafoam candy) all the way to Texas. Anybody have any info?

  40. I’m from Texas, and never been to Michigan (or anywhere near) and I remember getting super man ice cream when I was younger. I can’t remember where (too young), but I do remember being enticed by the three colours and name of a super hero.
    However, no one else can remember it. (I’ve moved to a town about four hours south of where I wad a young girl). I tried explaining it, but just couldn’t. I guess it was a Dallas thing (as well as Michigan.)

  41. Mike that lives in arizona,
    where did you find it? what grocery store? i just moved it az and have been craving it! go green!!

  42. We miss Superman ice cream. Our favorite ice cream shop in Arvada, Co has been trying to find a recipe for it. Totally IMPOSSIBLE. He’s from MI and remembers it like I do but can’t get the flavors right.

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  45. You can get it in Colorado at http://magillsicecream.com/

  46. I’m sitting here reading this wonderful wonderful blog of superman ice cream my roomate asked my favorite ice cream was and I told her how when I was a kid growing up in northeast pa we would go to the edge of my folks farm property an buy quarts of this wonderfully delicious yellow and blue and red ice cream e clerk of this lil craft store told it was called superman. We looked at each other and were like hmmm… Anyway it’s friggin awesome tasting so we would always go there and buy it, hooked just like that. Now I live in central Oregon an trying to dig up places to purchase this wonderfully flavored ice cream. Any ideas please please email me wllvr_jsh@yahoo.com thanks for this post

  47. Scott Strong Says:

    Superman ice cream was actually invented by Denny Strong at Strong’s House of flavors in Traverse City MI in 1965. He’s still alive and living in Traverse City. if you would care to talk to him and hear the story please email me.

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