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How does Hard Shell Ice Cream Topping Harden?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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The hard shell topping on an ice cream cone hardens for one of two reasons: paraffin wax or coconut oil. Both of these ingredients become soft or liquid when warm, but solidify quickly when exposed to cold ice cream. When combined with chocolate or another flavor, they allow the topping to completely cover the scoop of ice cream on top of the cone, adding a tasty, protective outer layer.

Paraffin Wax

The paraffin wax used in some recipes for hard shell topping is a food-grade wax, meaning that it's safe to eat. Edible paraffin cannot be absorbed by the body, so it simply passes through. This wax has no taste, and melts at relatively low temperatures — between 116°F (47°C) and 149°F (65°C). It is found in some candies, chocolates, and even on the outsides of some fruits and vegetables to make them shiny.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains high amounts of saturated fat, which are solid at room temperature. It melts at an even lower temperature than paraffin — just 74°F (23.3°C) — making it a very popular choice for bottled hard shell topping sold for home use. This oil freezes and solidifies very quickly when exposed to freezing temperatures, such as from ice cream. Coconut oil is naturally sweet and light; although refined oil loses most of its flavor, unrefined oil has been described as having a rich, nutty taste. Because coconut oil is digested by the body, toppings made with it will contain more fat and calories than those made with wax.

Topping Flavors

Although many hard shell toppings are flavored with chocolate, this is not the only type available. Many different flavors can be mixed with wax or oil, including vanilla, caramel, cherry, and orange creme. Chocolate-based variations are also very popular, with peanut butter, cherry, s'mores, and toffee as common additions.

Making Hard Shell Topping

Most toppings bought at ice cream parlors or in a bottle are made with just a few ingredients, including the chocolate or other flavorings, sugar, sunflower or other oil, and paraffin wax or coconut oil. Recipes for homemade hard shell topping are usually even simpler, and include just the coconut oil and flavoring; most flavorings, like chocolate chips or raspberry syrup, already contain a lot of sugar, so more is rarely needed. Homemade recipes usually do not contain paraffin wax, because food-grade wax can be difficult to find and coconut oil is easier to work with. Regular paraffin wax can contain impurities that may be toxic, and wax that is not specifically labeled as being safe to eat should not be used.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon313638 — On Jan 13, 2013

Oh, so that's why the cherry hardens!

By anon46978 — On Sep 30, 2009

While it could be true that whole sale food manufacturers use paraffin wax in their hard shell toppings that they distribute to retailers like DQ (I can't say for sure), the active ingredient in Magic Shell is coconut oil. It contains a high percentage (somewhere around 90 percent) of naturally saturated fat which makes it freeze at about 24 degrees, while it remains liquid at temperatures above 74 degrees. You can make this topping on your own by combining chocolate with refined coconut oil (try whole foods), and flavor it with whatever oil based flavors (essential oils) that you want.

By anon43124 — On Aug 25, 2009

Smuckers magic shell cherry flavor can be found in the grocery store.

By anon39929 — On Aug 05, 2009

Where did you find it?

By anon39454 — On Aug 02, 2009

If you'd like to try something different and delicious-you'll love this!! Go to your nearest ice cream store that offers a cherry dip. Ask the server to make you a wild cherry sundae with vanilla or chocolate softserve, and to pour some cherry hardshell over it!! It's a great combination of tastes/textures: sweet and tart and soft and crunchy! Yummm!

By anon33979 — On Jun 15, 2009

I've been looking for that Cherry Cone Dip for months and I finally found it. I've actually tasted this same brand (Kalva) and it's delicious. You do have to heat it up but we just use either the stove on a really low heat or a fondue pot works really well too. Just don't heat it up too hot or it will burn.

By anon14641 — On Jun 21, 2008

I own an ice cream shop and buy cherry dip top as well as lime, grape, blue raspberry, peanut butter and others from my local distributor. They are supplied in rather large cans (#10). If you contact Hill and Markes in Amsterdam NY they may be willing to sell you a can. It would probably last you a life time. Good Luck!

By anon9812 — On Mar 13, 2008

I'm trying to find the Cherry stuff too, can't find it anywhere, even went to DQ and they only had chocolate.

By f385 — On Oct 06, 2007

Does anyone know where cherry magic shell is sold, or if it is made,or in the process? I love getting it at DQ or from the ice cream truck with my ice cream, but can not find anything in stores.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
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