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This Is the Secret Ingredient You Never Knew Was in the Wendy's Frosty

There's a reason the dessert is so light and creamy.

The Frosty is Wendy's quintessential malt treat: the best part of ice cream and milkshakes, combined into one perfect dessert. Frostys are light but thick, cold and creamy, and there's nothing quite like them at any other fast food place. The chocolate Frosty, once the only Frosty flavor available at the chain, has a light brown color and a malty chocolate flavor. It might surprise fans, then, to know that a chocolate Frosty also contains vanilla.

If you've ever eaten a Frosty, you may have noticed that the flavor isn't the rich chocolate you might find in a chocolate shake from Shake Shack or Five Guys. That's in part because of the vanilla flavor, which keeps the chocolate from becoming too overpowering. Here's a little more about the sweet treat and how vanilla became a key flavor in the iconic dessert.

When was the Frosty invented?

Frostys have been around for more than 50 years. Fred Kappus, CEO of the Kappus Company, began working for his father's food service business in the late 1950s, and fans can thank him for the tasty frozen treat.

As Wendy's explained in its Square Deals blog, Kappus began low on the totem pole, packing parts, unloading units of ice cream machines, and delivering equipment. But the job prepared him for his next gig: developing one of the most beloved malt drink recipes of all time.

The story goes that in 1969, Wendy's CEO, Dave Thomas, called Kappus, who was then in charge of his family's company. Thomas wanted Kappus' advice on a frozen dessert to add to the Wendy's menu—and Kappus suggested the Frosty.

The recipe for the Frosty was made with the intention of complimenting Wendy's hamburgers. Thomas thought consumers would like to wash down their burgers with something cold, refreshing, creamy, and sweet. (He was right.) But what's actually in this secret recipe? It's been kept about as air-tight as the recipe to the Krabby Patty. And for good reason.

Why is there vanilla in the chocolate Frosty?

The secret ingredient in every Wendy's Frosty—both Classic Chocolate and Vanilla—is vanilla. Kappus was apparently inspired by ice cream at a race track in Cleveland, to which Kappus' company had supplied the ice cream machine. A sign on the ice cream machines at the track read, "SECRET FORMULA, FROSTED MALTED," according to the Wendy's blog.

At the time, vanilla wasn't so secret. In fact, it was used widely amongst ice cream mixers because it smoothed out the chocolate, altering the flavor into more of a malt-like taste.

After Kappus introduced Thomas to the racetrack's ice cream style, Thomas knew they had something good. So they added vanilla to the chocolate Frosty. The rest is pretty much history.

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What else is in a Frosty?

As far as which other ingredients are in a chocolate Frosty, the Wendy's website lists milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, nonfat dry milk, cocoa (processed with alkali), guar gum, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, natural vanilla flavor, carrageenan, calcium sulfate, sodium citrate, dextrose, and vitamin A palmitate. But the "natural vanilla flavor" is the star of this ingredients list.

Nowadays, anyone can walk into a Wendy's, order a Frosty, and know exactly what they're going to get. The dessert is a staple of the company's brand, and it's been a consistent part of Wendy's for more than 50 years.

While it may be hard to believe that you're actually eating vanilla flavoring in a Classic Chocolate Frosty, that's what sets it apart from its fast-food competitors. The Frosty truly is in a league of its own.

Stephanie Osmanski
Stephanie Osmanski is a freelance sustainability, health, and wellness writer. Read more about Stephanie