Why Fluffy Shaved Ice Is the Best Shaved Ice

Forget icy snow cones and opt for bing-su, kakigōri, or Taiwanese shaved snow.

snoice san diego shaved snow ice dessert
Photo courtesy of Snoice
Photo courtesy of Snoice

There is nothing better for cooling off in the summer than an ice-based dessert. There are popsicles, snowballs and snow cones, and slushies dyed in alarming shades of red and blue. But the shaved ice that stands out among this genre of desserts is bingsu, baobing, and kakigōri—the respective Korean, Taiwanese, and Japanese versions of frozen treats.

Instead of jagged ice chips that require crunching, these East Asian versions of shaved ice are much softer and fluffier, melting on the tongue rather than requiring active chewing. “For those who haven’t tried shaved snow, think of it as soft, flavored ribbons that melt in your mouth,” explains Jayrell Ringpis, the co-owner of San Diego-based Snoice. “Although a snow cone may be a similar ice treat, shaved snow has the flavor incorporated into the dessert rather than having a flavored syrup poured on top.”

At Snoice, the base flavors for their shaved snow include strawberry, honeydew, Oreo, and the Filipino sweet potato known as ube. Instead of freezing blocks of water for the dessert, blocks of cream base are used. That, paired with the proprietary machines that expertly shave the ice into fine layers, are what makes for the exceptionally soft texture that fold like birthday ribbons.

“Our goal here at Snoice is to bring our culture and community together through our love for desserts,” Ringpis adds. “We specialize in shaved snow, boba tea, and a traditional Filipino dessert known as halo-halo to share something new that everyone can try.”

It’s not just the base that makes shaved snow stand out from snow cones. A huge part of the dessert are the toppings, that range from traditional—like red bean, mochi balls, and injeolmi powder (or soy bean powder)—to more American, like Oreos and hearty slices of cheesecake.

Such is the case at Oakobing, a bingsu shop in Los Angeles with locations in Koreatown and Pasadena. “We want to promote Korean bingsu in the American Market but thought going completely traditional could be a little bit too foreign for those who are not familiar,” says Oakobing manager Ben K. “We tweaked the bingsu in our own way—you can think of it as a fusion-style dessert.”

bingsu korean frozen dessert shaved snow ice los angeles
Photo courtesy of Oakobing

There are two extremely popular versions of bingsu at Oakobing. First is the mango melon flavor, which features mango-flavored shaved ice served in a melon bowl and crowned with spherical pearls of honeydew melon. The Injeolmi harkens back to bingsu’s Korean roots, with a tower of milk-flavored ice, scoops of sticky red bean, a dusting of roasted soybean powder that gives the dish its name, and a drizzle of condensed milk to finish it off.

“When most people think of shaved ice, they literally think of ice that is flavored with syrup,” Ben says. “Our ice has flavor to begin with; it’s made from scratch in our store and the texture is softer and fluffier than other forms of shaved ice.”

Although fluffy shaved ice is certainly popular in California and up-and-down the West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle, it’s not limited to this geographical region. In Florida, three locations of Litchi Delights carry shaved ice inspired by Japanese kakigōri.

“The concept of shaved ice comes from Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii back in the mid-1800s,” says Alina Zerpa, the marketing director of Litchi Delights. “They’d use their tools to shave off pieces of ice and then top them with sugar or fruit juice. And so here we are in 2022, doing the same thing—with a whole lot more options.”

The dish at Litchi Delights is called snow ice, because that’s what it resembles: an avalanche of gently shaved snow that’s completely customizable, from the base to the toppings to the sauce. “Our shaved ice is really catered towards our customers because you can really make it whatever you want it to be,” says Zerpa, citing 20 to 30 toppings and flavors to choose from (the most popular being cherry and blue raspberry). “Each shaved ice is as unique as the customers who walk through our doors.”

So whether you want to be a traditionalist with milky snow and injeolmi or matcha and red bean, or mix it up with a colorful array of syrups and fruity toppings, ditch your standard frigid snow cone this summer and try fluffy shaved ice instead.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.