How Do Soft Serve Ice Cream Machines Work?
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Table of Contents:
- How Does a Soft Serve Machine Work? (Basics!)
- Gravity-Fed Machines
- Pump / Pressurized Machines
- Soft Serve 101: Foundational Features, Benefits & Your Bottom Line
- What is Soft Serve Ice Cream?
- Energy Efficiency: How much power do I need to run a machine?
- Soft Serve Machine Configurations
- Countertop Models
- Floor Models
- Components & Functions of a Soft Serve Machine:
- Soft Serve Machine Maintenance and Cleaning
How Do Soft Serve Ice Cream Machines Work?
Soft serve machines work by taking a liquid ice cream mix and simultaneously agitating it as well as freezing it. Depending on the machine and the type of mix, the time it takes to finish converting a liquid mix to soft serve ice cream ranges from 15-30 minutes. Once finished, the product can be dispensed directly from the machine's door, and into the hands of a customer!
Soft serve ice cream machines do come in a few different variations; the most common is the gravity fed machines. These machines usually have the hoppers (which hold the liquid mix, feeding portions of it through the air tub as you continue to serve the product). The hoppers are on top of the machine so that gravity can be used to feed the liquid downwards into the freezing cylinder. This is why these machines are called gravity-fed soft serve machines.
Pump / Pressurized Machines:
Pressurized and Pump machines are usually a bit more expensive as well as a little more involved in terms of putting the machine together, cleaning, and keeping track of all the extra pump parts. But, the extra cost and work required to get a pressurized soft serve ice cream machine up and running does come with additional perks. You usually have more control over the amount of overrun in your mix, as the consistency of soft serve coming from pressurized machines is often described as just an overall higher quality product.
Here you can really spot the difference between how the more common and affordable gravity-fed machines produce a heavier, less airy soft serve product (ex: the mcdonalds cone) while the higher end, pressurized machines can offer a more airy, lighter product that, in my opinion at least, just looks more satisfying.
Soft Serve Machines 101: Foundational Features, Benefits & Your Bottom Line
Nearly everyone has at some point in their lives visited a frozen yogurt or soft serve ice cream store to snack on some soft serve ice cream. There are not many individuals who would turn their nose at some quality soft serve on a hot sunny summer day. And even in the colder months, soft serve often still performs pretty well.
In 2022, there is ample opportunity to expand your business by adding this sweet treat to the menu. With that being said, actually choosing the right machine for your business can start to get really complicated fast. The last thing you want is to spend money on a machine that doesn't make a quality product, or that uses the wrong type of power for your building, or is water-cooled when you actually need air-cooled, or vice versa. The key to making smart choices when it comes to soft serve machines is simple; understanding how these machines function, why each machine is built the way they are as well as how each manufacturer builds their equipment.
What is Soft Serve Ice Cream?
Soft Serve Ice Cream is pretty similar to hard scoop ice cream, with a few key differences: The mix that makes up the ice cream product is not hard frozen (which is what happens in a batch freezer!) but instead the soft serve mix is combined with air. This process accomplishes a few things, mainly turning the liquid ice cream mix into the soft serve ice cream everyone loves and is familiar with.
The additional air in soft serve increases the volume of product as well as offering a creamier and easy-to-dispense consistency perfect for any commercial soft serve machine. The amount of air added to the soft serve is called its overrun. On certain soft serve machines, you can adust the overrun. To see what the new volume of your product will be after adding the air to it, simply take the percentage number (ex: 40%) and just add that to the volume. For example, if you have 1 gallon of product, and the overrun is 40%, then your soft serve machine should yield 1.40 gallons of product. Personally, I think 30-45% overrun for soft serve products will usually give you a great flavor, consistency, and still increase profitability. Anything over that, and the slight amount of extra product that comes from adding that additional air will be hurt by the over-ary consistency and flavor.
Energy Efficiency: How Much Power Do You Need?
Generally, commercial soft serve machines need around 208/230 volt power to function properly. This means a regular at-home plug is not going to work. You’ll also need to choose between three phase and single phase power. If your building has 3 Phase power, then I'd recommend sticking with that, as it will save you money on your power bill.
As I talked about above, soft serve ice cream machines work by freezing, agitating and adding air to your liquid mix simultaneously, to create the soft serve ice cream you are familiar with. Generally, a soft serve machine will need to hold a temperature of around 18 degrees Fahrenheit (or -7.77778 degrees Celsius) all must be running all day & night at proper storage temperature (is generally required by the Health Department to prevent the product from going bad or harvesting any bacteria.
Because of this, having a couple of soft serve machines running can start to impact how much you're paying for electricity each month. This is another reason some prefer water-cooled machines over air-cooled if you are going to be running lots of machines at the same time. This is because air-cooled machines will produce heat as they are cooling. To counteract this, you either have to keep your AC running (which will continue to increase your power bill) or you can switch to water-cooled machines, as generally the amount of water used to cool the machines is minimal compared to AC costs. If you’re looking to save even more, you can also set-up a glycol chiller to cool water-cooled machines, which recycles the coolant instead of using running water.
Soft Serve Machine Configurations
There are a few common soft serve machine builds you’ll see in action. Unlike the gravity-fed and pressurized machine discussion we had above, these different configurations don’t change how the machine functions, but just how it looks.
Countertop Soft Serve Machines:
As the name implies, a countertop soft serve machine is a much smaller machine, and will often not have wheels like its counterpart full size varieties. These machines are perfect for someone looking to add soft serve to their menu but really can fit a full sized soft serve machine. Generally these machines will serve a single flavor, but there are countertop models that serve two flavors as well as a twist too!
Floor Model Soft Serve Machines:
Floor Model soft serve ice cream machines are the usual, full size machines you’ll see in most frozen yogurt stores. The vast majority of machines on the market are full sized, floor model machines, and are great for nearly any business that wants to serve soft serve and can fit the full size machine into your store.
Components & Functions of a Soft Serve Machine:
While each soft serve machine will be slightly different in terms of build, functionality, presentation, etc. There are some core components to a soft serve ice cream machine that generally do not change from machine to machine. For that reason, I want to talk briefly about each major common component of a soft serve machine.
- Machine Hoppers / Feed Tank: The Hopper (for gravity-fed machines) or the Feed Tank (for pump / pressurized machines) is where your liquid product is first introduced. The Hoppers / Feed Tanks are refrigerated at a slightly higher temperature than the machine's barrels to avoid having the mix freezing solid, while also keeping it at a safe temperature range for eventual serving. Liquid Mix is ‘Fed’ through into the barrels.
- Beater: The beater is the larger, metal piece that is inserted into the machine's barrel, and used to agitate your liquid mix until it turns to soft serve. The inside is frozen at around 20F.
- Barrel: The part of a soft serve machine where the soft serve is stored and frozen, as well as where the beaters are put to agitate and create the soft serve we all know and love.
- Control Panel: The control panel is exactly what the name implies; Controls all major behavior (ex: Wash Mode, Auto Mode, On/Off, and Mix Ref.) of the soft serve ice cream machine.
- Dispensing Handel (*Adjustment Screw):Recommended dispensing rate is 5 ounces every 10 seconds (150ml-220ml). Used to manage the serving speed of the soft serve machine. Generally, the slower the dispensing is set the easier it is to get a nice solid swirled soft serve cone.
Soft Serve Machine Maintenance & Cleaning
Soft serve ice cream machines do require constant care. Cleaning your machine properly is extremely important, because improperly cleaning your machine can have a lot of unintended consequences. The most obvious of those is just the general safety and health of customers. Machines that are not properly cleaned can cause illness and host lots of unwanted and dangerous bacteria, due to the nature of dairy products in general.
To avoid buildup, it's recommended that you use approved sanitizers like Stera Sheen’s sanitizer & cleaner, which is specifically made to fight milkstones and other buildup in soft serve machines. It is food safe as well.
Other than safety, not cleaning your machine often can cause parts to go bad more quickly as parts get worn and old product gets more stuck into the very particular mechanics of a soft serve machine.
Below is a step-by-step video that goes over the entire overall manatience procedures required by the California Health Department, and exactly what you need when it comes to cleaning your soft serve ice cream machine.
The World of Soft Serve Machines
As you probably know by now, soft serve ice cream machines are quite unique. Each machine has its benefits and its downfalls, though obviously some machines are better than others. With all that being said, it can get overwhelming when it comes to deciding on a piece of equipment to buy. When talking to potential buyers, I often hear a few variations of basically the same question, which to put it plainly, is ‘Can I just buy that cheap chinese branded machine instead of spending 30 grand on a newer high end machine?’
Well, here’s the deal. I would highly recommend avoiding any no name brands. Generally, these machines lack any support from the manufacturer, and it’s difficult to find good, specific help for those particular machines too. Not only that, but if anything ever goes wrong with your machine or you ever decide to close up shop, the resale value for off brand chinese built machines is basically nothing. As a reseller of all types of ice cream, frozen yogurt, and other desert equipment, my professional advice is to avoid those types of machines at all cost.
Soft Serve Machines to Avoid
A good example of a machine you should avoid at all costs is the Vevor soft serve machines. This machine is built in China, and while that does not automatically mean it will be a bad machine, in this case it does. That's because there is practically no U.S. equipment support offered for these machines. After testing one at our very own warehouse, the quality of the machine was clear; we would never buy another due to how poor the product came out.
Good Soft Serve Machines
Now, onto the good machines. I would argue that all of the major brands are very similar in quality. Stoelting, Electrofreeze, and Taylor are the three major players that come to mind. All of their machines (within reason) will generally produce high quality products. One thing you will notice right away if you visit the manufacturers' website for Taylor, Stoelting or Electrofreeze: Their machines are pretty expensive. They nicest, high production machines can often go for as high as 30,000$ new, and that's just for a single machine!
In all honesty, for most reasonable people, this is just going to cost too much. You will likely need more than one machine, and even new lower cost brand name machines will still cost at least 10,000$ for each machine.
Alternative to New Soft Serve Machines
While owning a new soft serve machine is often out of reach for a new business owner, there is an alternative: Used equipment! I recommend to anyone looking to buy a few machines to strongly consider buying used if you can. Obviously there are pitfalls to this, as you want to be sure the machine you're buying works well, and it's generally risky to buy used without being able to first see it in action and have it tested. While you could technically start looking through services like craigslist and ebay, one thing to keep in mind is that there is no seller protection in these cases. Shopping through those is not something I'd recommend unless you are willing to risk buying a machine that does not work, with no money back guarantee.
At TurnKeyParlor, we sell used soft serve machines as well as a variety of other equipment at a significantly reduced cost when compared to their newer counterparts. Because we have two warehouses that are on opposite sides of the country, we can purchase, test, and clean used machines around the country. Not only do we make sure that these machines are working, we also make sure they are clean (you would be surprised how dirty some of these machines are when coming in) and we offer a 2-week warranty on all equipment we sell, fixing any problems that could have occurred during the shipping process or were somehow unseen during our extensive testing.
Basically, we take all the risk so that customers don’t have to, and still sell these machines with significant discounts.Shop our USED soft serve machines
Froyo Store Package Deal - 3 Taylor Machines plus Key Equipment
If your looking to start a soft serve store, this package deal could be a great choice. Included are three used Taylor 336 Soft serve machines; these machines make great product, and are small, which makes them perfect for tighter spaces. Not only that, but because they are water-cooled, which means they don't require the clearence space that an air cooled machine would. Also included in the package is a Refrigrated Toppings Bar which holds 12-18 toppings, a Two Door Refrigerator (to thaw frozen yogurt liquid mix), and a single door freezer to store your frozen yogurt liquid mix longer term.
One (1) Refrigerated Topping Bar (12-18 toppings)
One (1) TWO DOOR Refrigerator (to thaw frozen yogurt liquid mix)
One (1) ONE DOOR Freezer (store frozen yogurt liquid mix longer term)