When I was growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs, summer meant one thing: theme parks. Six Flags was where you went to make out with high school boys; Universal Studios was where you went when your parents made you spend time with visiting relatives. But Disneyland, the holy grail of manufactured happiness, was the place you went to get a Dole Whip, a perfect, creamy soft-serve pineapple cup of joy that, according to local legend, was only available at the Adventureland Tiki Room. (This was pre-Wikipedia, okay?)
That bit of California exceptionalism may have turned out to be not quite true—almost any restaurant can license the product—but for the most part, Dole Whip still remained fairly hard to find outside of the Magic Kingdom. Until this summer, that is, as variations on the frozen treat seem to be popping up everywhere from lifestyle blogs like Refinery29 to food blogs everywhere. And we’ve got some questions: What is it, actually? How did the Dole Whip become so culty-beloved? And why is it having a resurgence now?
When Hawaiian pineapple behemoth Dole first began sponsoring Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in 1976, the little hut on the border of Adventureland only served pineapple juice and spears. Their sponsorship grew to other Disney parks, but it wasn’t until 1984 that Dole began selling the now-iconic soft-serve at Florida’s Magic Kingdom. The dairy-free dessert is made from a pineapple-flavored dry mix (dried pineapple juice and the key to all silky smooth soft serve: stabilizers) that’s combined with water and pumped out of a soft-serve machine. Though other citrus and vanilla flavors can be found at various Disney locations, the original pineapple Dole Whip, as well as the more tropical float, consisting of a float of whip in a glass of pineapple juice, topped with a maraschino cherry, came to Disneyland in 1986 and quickly became a fan favorite. While most other Disney desserts—Mickey Mouse shaped ice creams, warm churros, and the like—could be found throughout the park, Dole Whips were only available at a few places, creating a sense that you had to chase them down.
Since the dessert’s mid-80s inception, Dole Whip demand has been consistently high, with lines longer than some Disney rides. (At Disneyland those queues have only swelled since Frozen actor Josh Gad revealed a second, “secret” Tiki Bar window to buy whips from during a 2016 Disney Anniversary Special.) In 2016, between Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the theme parks sold over 3.4 million cups of Dole Whip.
Even outside of Disney, the easily-licensed dessert is becoming more widely available thanks to—what else?—Instagram. Food hackers from the clever to the lazy are continuing to find that even after four decades, the original dessert can still be flavored in a variety of ways (Dole Whip cotton candy, boozy Dole float, Tajín and Dole Whip, check, check, check). Delish declared a new Moana-tied pineapple parfait “like Dole Whip on crack.” A blogger’s DIY Dole Whip recipe on YouTube made with pineapple and coconut milk (ironically real ingredients as opposed to the flavored mix that makes up the real Dole Whip) has been viewed over a million times. In fact there are over 40,000 results when you search Dole Whip on YouTube. For true fanatics, there’s more than one Instagram account dedicated to the food at Disney to follow for constant swirly yellow reminders of everything good in the world. There is also a robust after-market of unofficial Dole Whip merch on sites like Etsy and Poshmark, hawking Dole Whip-emblazoned tank tops, Dole Whip vintage posters, and even a Dole Whip scented candle, that isn’t the same as pineapple before you ask.
However to attribute Dole Whip’s recent relevance only to social media may be a little simplistic—as any California kid can tell you, lines for the soft-serve dessert have been snaking through Adventureland for decades before Instagramming your meal became the quintessential bourgeois status symbol. Dole Whip may be having its moment this summer because fervor for Disney treats is higher than ever (it peaked on Google Trends the day Dole Whip cotton candy news hit the blogs), but we have a feeling it’s going to be around for a long time yet.
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