Brand diversification happens a lot in the food industry, and usually, it’s to the consumer’s benefit. Peeps, for example, have found a way to expand beyond their Easter season confines and delight us year-round with various holiday marshmallow shapes (ghosts! hearts! Christmas trees!). Dunkin’ has gone so far beyond its original breakfast offering that the word “Donuts” has long been banished from its name. And IHOP wants you to know that it’s much more than just a house of pancakes.
But not every product needs to seek out new markets and insist upon broader use. Ice cream cones, for example, can probably just stick to holding ice cream rather than...salad.
Since the weather is finally getting warmer, I picked up a box of Joy ice cream cones at Walgreens recently to kickstart homemade ice cream season. (If I already have the cones, that’ll motivate me to start churning, right?) But I was startled and shaken to find all manner of serving suggestions on the back of the box, none of which involved ice cream at all. One is a pile of sliced seasonal fruits overflowing from a cone held upright in a mason jar. One is a cone lying on a napkin with a desserty trail mix of mini marshmallows, pretzel sticks, and chocolate chips tumbling out. And not one, but two different cones are shown stuffed with greens, tomatoes, onions, and chunks of grilled chicken. This is the salad cone, and it’s something the internet has tried to generate buzz around for at least 10 years. I’m not having it.
The Joy Waffle Cone box wasn’t the first to suggest serving salad this way. But the origins of salad in an ice cream cone are murky; trawling Google led me to some recipe pages of indeterminate origin. For example, this recipe for “sundae salad”—a waffle cone filled with greens, blueberries, pecans, goat cheese, red onions, and a green goddess dressing—was shared to the Love My Salad blog by Mann Packing, a veggie supplier recently acquired by Del Monte. But because it’s not a recipe developed by a verbose blogger, we get none of the story behind how this recipe came to be. The headnote only reads, “Have you ever heard of salad in a cone?” No, LoveMySalad.com. I have not.
A 2014 article in the Times of India, meanwhile, discusses the dubious “trend” of putting salad in an ice cream cone with very little explanation of what the benefits of such a serving suggestion might be.
“Got a party coming up? Just serve these cones around to guests,” the article says. I suppose the cone is supposed to render salad more of a “finger food,” but that theory falls apart if you think about it for longer than two seconds.
Wouldn’t the first bite fling cone shards and vinaigrette everywhere? Wouldn’t you need a fork to handle the contents of the cone, and doesn’t that already create utensils and engage both hands in the same way that a small bowl or jar of salad would? Why pass out salad when you could pass out any number of more easily handled hors d’oeuvres?
I should say, I have eaten some delightful cone-based passed apps before. But these were tiny, bite-sized cornets of cheese and pimento that could be seamlessly plucked from a platter and popped into one’s mouth with ease. Just the thought of salad dressing dripping out the bottom of an ice cream cone onto my party shoes leaves me cringing.
But the Times of India wasn’t pulling this “trend” from thin air. In 2012, a website called Dude Foods—which is still going strong in 2022, I might add—wrote a post titled “Cobb Salad in a Crouton Cone.” Incredibly, it presents the only compelling argument for cone-based salad I’ve seen:
Normally I don’t even like croutons because they always end up either too soft or WAY too hard, but this cone was sort of the perfect medium. At this point I’m also starting to think that there isn’t a single food out there that isn’t better in cone form….
A waffle cone made out of seasoned ground croutons, an egg, and olive oil makes sense: It’s imbued with flavors that complement the salad, and its thinness offers a textural contrast that’s superior to big, tooth-cracking croutons. But this artisanal cone (and others like it) is a far cry from the ice cream cones sold at the store, designed instead to complement the flavors of sugar and butterfat.
Ultimately, the salad-in-a-waffle-cone gambit seems to betray ice cream cone manufacturers’ fear that their product will, throughout large swaths of the country, only sell in the summer months. I completely understand that concern; I personally don’t reach for ice cream between the months of October and June.
But is that any reason to jump to...salad? How about other desserts, where the kiss of sweetness in the cone can be highlighted instead of obscured? How about recipes that actually benefit from the cone’s shape, like mousse or cake (Betty Crocker gets it)? Or, hell, how about dispensing of the conical shape altogether and going with something truly bonkers, like Food Network’s suggestion to use ice cream cones as chicken breading?
In fact, we’re certain that our readers have better ideas for how to use waffle cones beyond ice cream. Hit us with your best ones.