How to Stop a Brain Freeze, According to Ben and Jerry's
We've all been there.
You're enjoying a delicious, frozen treat.
Your excitement gets the best of you.
Like a dog, chasing a garbage truck, you lose sight of reality, and blindly run down your desires with reckless abandon for your own well-being.
Then, you start to feel like Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance, is promptly dancing atop your cranium. It hurts to move. It hurts to open your eyes. It hurts to think. Yet, you know in a matter of about 30 to 90 seconds, it will (hopefully) go away. It's a classic case of an overstimulation of the sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia nerves. A brain-freeze. The "ice cream headache."
It's the one harrowing drawback of summer snacking (aside from eventual obesity). Bound not by age, gender, or vanilla/chocolate preference, it truly is a scorn upon anyone who's ever opened up a pint in the name of gorging. The brain freeze affects millions every year.
But it doesn't have to be that way. There are methods to stop the dreaded brain freeze dead in its tracks. A few, actually.
Take heed. And never suffer the brain freeze this summer, or ever again.
What is a brain freeze, actually?
"A brain freeze is what happens when cold food touches a bundle of nerves in the back of the palate," Stephanie Vertrees, medical doctor, headache specialist, neurologist and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine told Science Daily in 2017. "The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) is a group of nerves that are sensitive to cold food, and when they're stimulated, they relay information that stimulates a part of the brain to have a headache."
That specific ganglion, Vertrees goes onto explain, is also one of the small bundles of nerves responsible for painful migraines and cluster headaches. Simply put: the thing is a little sensitive bastard.
Basically, when extremely cold food (the actual degree will vary from person-to-person) hits the back of your palate, it shocks the sphenopalatine ganglion nerves into thinking you have a painful headache, till it cools off.
It might be a "fake" headache, but there's real pain there. Anyone who has eaten an Otterpop in 12 seconds can confirm.
How do you prevent a brain freeze?
Defense is the best offensive. Or maybe offensive is the best defense? At any rate: you probably would prefer to stop having brain freezes all together, and there are some things you can do -- before you eat -- that might help you protect that finicky little nerve cluster in the back of your throat.
For advice, we talked to Eric Fredette, a long-time Flavor Guru for Ben and Jerry's. As a Flavor Guru, his job is part food scientist, part mad scientist, and a full-time thinker about ice cream, all day, every day. This is a man who knows about brain freezes. For him, it's a work hazard.
His advice, boiled down, reads as follows: "Stir up the ice cream to warm it slightly. Think creemee consistency! Plus, warmer things taste better, so a double benefit. And, make sure to keep ice cream off of the roof of your mouth. Sometimes, this can be achieved by flipping the spoon over and putting ice cream on your tongue vs. the roof of your mouth."
So his advice comes in twofold, the first part we can refer to as the "Warm-Before-Chewing" method. It's simple, self-explanatory, but also highly effective. You can microwave your ice cream, or even add warm toppings (like ranch dressing!) to make it sensible, and sassy at the same time.
Secondly, he recommends flipping your spoon, placing the ice cream directly on your tongue. Since we (now) know that the root case of brain freeze occurs when something cold makes contact with the bundle of nerves in the back of your throat -- this makes sense. By making sure the ice cream hit -- and is warmed by -- your tongue before it makes contact on the back of your throat, you can drastically reduce your risk of ice cream headache. And also, (in this specific writer opinion) it helps you taste the ice cream better, without the metallic bowl of the spoon hitting your tongue first. So, in Eric's words, another double benefit.
In essence, you are warming the ice cream in your mouth before it hits the back of your throat. This may seem illogical! But only if you don't know that brain freezes happen in your throat, and not your mouth. And unless you skimmed down to this part (cheater!), you should know that by now.
OK. Well, what if I already have a brain freeze? How do I get rid of it?
Nobody's perfect. And if you found this article by frantically Googling "How do I stop a brain freeze" while you yourself are experiencing a brain freeze, you probably want to skip to the point. There are a few palliative methods to help soothe an ice cream headache.
- Place your tongue (or thumb) on the roof of your mouth: Right here, you are basically trying to warm the ice-shocked bundle of nerves after the fact. Think of it like putting a blanket on someone with a cold. You can use your tongue, or your thumb -- if you wash your hands a lot.
- Drink something hot: Same deal as above. You are trying to rapidly warm the back of your throat. A hot beverage will coat the back of your mouth with heat, and help alleviate the symptoms. But, this only works if you happen to have an accessible, hot beverage during the minute or so a brain freeze lasts.
- Cup your hands over your mouth, and breathe: Hitting the affected nerves with a blast of heat, whether it's via an appendage or a cup of tea, if your best bet. But, if you don't have access to a warm drink, and you don't want anyone else to see you put your thumb in your mouth, this is an alternative. Again, you are pretty much just using your breath to heat up the back of your throat. This isn't rocket surgery.
With all this information logged inside the very brain that betrayed you in the first place, you should be able to prevent -- or alleviate -- any and all brain freezes this summer.
And if all this doesn't work… for some reason… you should really be taking smaller bites, people. And maybe ice cream just isn't right for you.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.