How Does Magic Shell Ice Cream Topping Work?

The tight-lipped folks at Smucker’s would like us to believe that Magic Shell—the topping that instantly hardens when it comes in contact with ice cream—is indeed magical. After a series of unreturned calls, a company rep emailed that information about the product, which comes in Caramel, Chocolate, Chocolate Fudge, Turtle Delight, and Twix flavors, is proprietary.

Hoping to extrapolate, CHOW called Mister Softee and Carvel to find out how their Magic Shell–like toppings work.

Mister Softee was the first to answer. President James Conway Jr. says his secret ingredient is “edible-grade paraffin wax.” The topping is kept warm before application, so the wax is in a melted state. When ice cream is dipped in it, the wax hardens. (It’s not that far-fetched: Paraffin wax is sometimes used in chocolate to give it a pretty sheen.)

But wax is not listed as an ingredient in Magic Shell.

Then Carvel—the ice cream chain that transforms its Fudgie the Whale cake into a Santa Claus cake for the holidays (simply by turning it 90 degrees)—gave us the scoop, so to speak.

Like Magic Shell, Carvel’s Brown Bonnet chocolate topping instantly forms a hard shell around ice cream. And, just like Magic Shell, one of the main ingredients is coconut oil.

Tropical oils, including coconut, are naturally high in saturated fat—consisting of about 90 percent of the stuff. As Paula Figoni explains in her book How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science, “the more saturated fatty acids in fat, the more solid the fat. Tropical oils are all solid at room temperature but will melt quickly if the room is too warm.” Coconut oil becomes solid at 70 degrees, melts at about 74 degrees, and freezes at 25 degrees. To maintain the chocolate coating in a liquid state before application, Carvel keeps its Brown Bonnet in a warmer. Similarly, the label on Magic Shell warns against refrigeration and recommends running the bottle under hot water before use.

Karen Gailey, the public relations–corporate communications manager for Carvel, says it is the coconut oil’s reaction to Carvel soft-serve ice cream (22 degrees) that creates the “magic.”

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