The SpongeBob Ice Cream Treat We Lost |

The SpongeBob Ice Cream Treat We Lost

It was the first warm day here in Chicago. Bathed in the kind of warm weather that activates something feral in residents of the Windy City, imbuing us with the carnal need to be—and do—everything outside or inches from an open window, it’s the kind of day where you run into half of the people you know by just going for a walk.

Running between social engagements, I stopped by the ice cream cart parked near my apartment. While my tastes have changed a lot since I was a kid, one thing I’ll never be able to resist is a novelty ice cream treat modeled after a cartoon character. Overloaded with all sorts of questionable dyes and topped with gumballs for eyes, these were the treats of my childhood, and SpongeBob—with its bright flavors of cotton candy and fruit punch that matched its neon red and yellow color scheme—was my favorite.

I nearly crumbled to my knees after tearing open the package. The gumballs that had once gotten so frozen that they became crunchy were gone. Instead, beady chocolate dots made up the ice cream SpongeBob’s pupils, robbing the bar of its off-kilter visual punch. Look how they massacred my boy! Don’t get me wrong, I love the combination of fruit and chocolate. When executed well, the two complement each other in perfect harmony. But that’s a very adult combination. It’s still tasty, but what kid would want to mix chocolate and fruit like this? And over a gumball? Doubtful.

This chewy touch is part of why this ice cream treat in particular is so iconic: Those massive pupils made the treat even more cursed than it already was. They also made the bar a much more interesting textural experience than your average frozen dairy treat. And since the gumballs were the cheapest kind known to man, they only lasted a few seconds, so you could get right back to gumming down your melting sea sponge before the neon-red of his mouth and tie stained your hands for the rest of the day.

Introduced in 2023, the change was immediately met with controversy. Following the outcry from fans, the Popsicle company released the following statement to People via email: “The Popsicle brand is always looking for ways to improve their products and made the decision to remove the gumballs. Gumballs will be replaced with a thin chocolatey layer for the eyes instead. This new version is available in stores now. We know that this product is beloved by many, and we hope our fans will enjoy the new and improved design.” I struggle to see how this is an improvement for anyone but the Popsicle company’s bookkeepers.

Trips to the zoo or the state fair weren’t complete without my sister and I wearing our parents down to feed us sugar in the form of these SpongeBob-shaped treats, and it’s clear we weren’t alone. After sharing my experience with the newest iteration of the novelty treat on social media, my DMs were flooded with replies from other people my age. Everyone had the same reaction: “Why would they do this?” No novelty ice cream product ruled the shared memory of a cooling snack break in the hot summer sun quite like SpongeBob Squarepants. Often mangled and hilariously off-model, this fruit punch and cotton candy-flavored treat was the perfectly sweet nexus of flavors and colors. And not only did it taste like my favorite flavors of candy, but SpongeBob’s antics were a personal favorite at the time thanks to a DVD of the iconic show’s second season (which holds up spectacularly, by the way).

I’ve never felt quite as old as I did reminiscing about the good old days of convenience ice cream treats with friends in my Instagram DMs. I get that part of getting older is seeing the institutions and things you loved as a kid change or grow into something other than what they were in your youth and saying things like, “they don’t make ice cream treats like they used to,” but this change is one I have yet to wrap my mind around.

Such is the nature of mass-produced convenience foods. Evolving tastes and corporations constantly chasing bigger profit margins push great stuff out of the market all the time, whether it’s Ranch-Dipped Hot Wing Doritos or the gumballs in an ice cream treat, the constant need for novelty—and social media chatter/outrage to generate buzz—winning out over quality almost every time. And just as they changed the treat last year, I’m sure Popsicle will rewrite the recipe again in another 15 to 20 years, much to the dismay of Zoomers everywhere.

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