Published September 8th, 2016 at 12:11 PM
It’s a classic summertime treat, the kind you might get from an ice cream truck.
It’s a sugar cone, in the shape of a taco, filled with light vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate with nuts on top. It’s the Choco Taco.
But where did this highly engineered dessert come from?
Food writer Jason Cohen took a deep dive into the history of the Choco Taco and how it is inspiring high-end chefs and ice cream vendors across the country. He tells NPR’s Audie Cornish the story of how this novelty was created.
Cohen stumbled upon this story on a visit to Philadelphia. He was waiting in line at an exclusive pizza joint, when he struck up a conversation with the man in front of him.
“The guy in front of me, you know we were just chatting, because that’s what you do when you’re waiting in line for food, and he’s telling me secrets of how to get this pizza,” Cohen says. “And he turns to me and says, ‘I’m famous, you know?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, really? For what?’ And he tells me, ‘I invented the Choco Taco.’ ”
That man was Alan Drazen, who told Cohen he came up with the idea for the Choco Taco back in 1983. Drazen began as a truck driver for Good Humor in Philadelphia before going into management with Jack & Jill in 1974. It struck him that Jack & Jill didn’t have anything unique beyond the usual ice cream fare.
“He was just trying to come up with the product for the company, and Mexican food was the hot food category at the time, and somehow this magic moment struck,” Cohen says.
Cohen says Drazen sometimes embellishes that story for dramatic affect.
“But he knows that people don’t want to hear that,” Cohen says. “What they want to hear is that he grew up loving ice cream and loving tacos and always dreamed of mixing it. Or he tells people that he was on a trip to Mexico and got stranded in the desert somewhere and saw it in mirage.”
The Choco Taco was originally distributed through wholesalers selling it to ice cream trucks. It gradually entered the mainstream after the company that originally made and distributed it was bought by Unilever. When Taco Bell started carrying it, the Choco Taco became a mainstay in American food culture.
Though eating a Choco Taco doesn’t typically remind one of eating Mexican food, the idea was tapping into a trend of that particular time.
“Well, it’s just a gimmick, obviously,” Cohen says. “But I guess at the time it was just before salsa was becoming the hotter condiment than ketchup in an off-cited statistic, and the fast casual Mexican-style food was starting to spread around the country. So he just knew it would be a good hook. And of course, it is a good hook because everything’s better as a taco.”