Ice isn't just for chilling drinks anymore, or for packing fish and treating sprains. It's a hot snack. Some Sonic Drive-In franchises sell it in cups and in bags to go. Ice-machine makers are competing to make the best chewable ice, with names like Chewblet, Nugget Ice and Pearl Ice. One manufacturer calls the ice-loving South the "Chew Belt."
Sales of machines that make easier-to-chew ice jumped about 23%, to 16,673 units in 2006 from 2003, according to data from the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. Some ice chewers, including country-music star Vince Gill, have had the machines installed in their homes.
Ice chewers swap tips on Icechewing.com. A recipe for preparing the perfect cup of ice: Use a glass, not a plastic cup. Let crushed ice fuse in water. Drink the water. Shake the cup to loosen the ice. Dig in.
The American Dental Association says that ice-chewing can damage teeth. "People have the right to do things that may hurt them," says Matt Messina, a dentist in Cleveland and spokesman for the association. "If something breaks, we'll fix it."
A little trading down, a little retro, a little irreverence, a little retro. No wonder ice is gaining commercial steam.