Everything you ever wanted to know about slushies but were afraid to ask

Ah, the slushy – it’s the semi-frozen sugary beverage that has the nation talking. But what even is a slushy, and is Simon Bridges’ beef with them warranted? Alice Neville investigates.

Despite the rapidly plummeting temperatures that autumn has brought with it (Auckland this morning was reminiscent of the Battle of Winterfell, minus all the deaths and dragons and stuff), in recent days slushies have come zooming into the public consciousness.

Why? Old mate Simon Bridges. In case you missed it, the National Party leader is fuming about the fact that during the summer of 2017/18, the Department of Corrections spent $1 million on 193 slushy machines to keep prison guards cool at work.

After he uttered the below iconic quote, The Spinoff felt it was journalistically prudent that we also wrap our lips around some slushies. We hired a machine (we were spoilt for choice – turns out the Auckland slushy machine hire market is positively saturated) and got to work researching the world of slushies to bring you this, The Spinoff’s official slushy guide.

What in all hell is a slushy?

It’s OK to admit if you don’t know what a slushy is. National MP Judith Collins attributed her ignorance of slushies to “limited life experience”, but took to the world wide web to educate herself. Good on you, Jude. (Though let’s hope she didn’t look it up in Urban Dictionary, where there are several definitions and they are all gross.)

According to my own internet-based research, slushies, like heaps of other cool stuff including penicillin, post-it notes, corn flakes and the slinky, were invented by accident.

It went down like this: the year was 1958, and the excellently named Omar Knedlik owned a Dairy Queen in Kansas. One day, his soda machine broke – disaster! – so he transferred the soda to a freezer to keep it cool. It froze (who could’ve predicted that?!) but Knedlik decided to sell it anyway, and turns out his customers quite liked the stuff. Thus, the slushy was born.

Special machines were developed, various brands were born and slushies took over America and, eventually, the world.

Sold our printer to afford this

How do slushy machines work?

Well, dear reader, one must distinguish between the frozen carbonated beverage (FCB) machine, the likes of which one finds at McDonald’s and petrol stations (shout out to Karori Mobil, where my childhood love of frozen Coke was born), and the regular “slush drink” machine.

The FCB machine is more complex and expensive, as it requires a pressure chamber and a carbon dioxide source, while the non-carbonated slush machine – the kind purchased by Corrections and hired by The Spinoff – relies on a cooling system and a churning motion and results in a wetter beverage than the frozen Coke and its family. If you would like to know more about how a slushy machine works, good on you for wanting to expand your mind: find detailed information here.

What goes in a slushy?

Firstly, water and sugar. As our friend Wikipedia puts it, “to prevent the mixture from freezing solid, there must be between 12% to 22% of sugar present in the solution. The sugar acts as an antifreeze in the solution. The slush machine stirs or rotates the mixture at a constant speed so that the sugar and water molecules bond together before the water gets a chance to freeze. In this way, a soft, wet slurry mixture is formed.”

All kinds of flavours are available, and you can add booze too if you like. The frozen margarita slushy is a popular option (shout out Mad Mex Ponsonby Road), and there was a minor fad for frosé (frozen rose) a summer or two ago that still lingers, but the only limits are your imagination. Auckland restaurant Culprit has two rotating slushy cocktails on offer – at the moment it’s a frozen dark and stormy and a frozen mojito, always using top-qual ingredients – and they are yum AF. 

I don’t know where you magic pixies came from, but I like your pixie drink

Are slushies bad for you?

Well, they do have quite a lot of sugar in order to freeze properly. Last year, a group of Australian health agencies spearheaded a campaign to make people aware of the sugar content of slushies with a terrifying image of someone slurping from a slushy cup bulging with toxic fat.

In the States, however, frozen kombucha and other “healthy slushies” are apparently a thing. Whether or not they also contain shit tons of sugar and it’s all a scam, or they have developed some sort of different slushy-making method, I do not know.

It’s not clear what flavour slushies are being slurped by prison officers, but electrolyte replacement mixtures are said to be added to them, so maybe that makes them healthy or something. WHO IS TO SAY. 

Do slushies really cool you down?

Seems so. Corrections’ defence to Bridges’ taxpayer-money-wasting allegation was that slushies are scientifically proven to be more effective than water at cooling you down. You can read about the New Zealand study that concluded this by studying the effects of a pre-exercise slushy on young male recreational athletes here (it increased their endurance, basically).

I decided to test the theory myself (not by exercising, I’m not an idiot!). Prison officers wear 6kg stab-proof vests, which can get a bit hot, apparently. I don’t have one of those so instead I put on three jerseys, two scarves, two coats, a woolly hat, woollen socks and some weird knitted booties my friend got me at a hippy market on Waiheke. I then wrapped myself in a polar fleece blanket and waited to get hot. I warmed up quite quickly (I overheat very easily and regularly annoy my colleagues by demanding the air-con be at beyond-the-Wall levels), but I still didn’t feel I was quite hot enough, so I casually ran a few laps around the office. Exhausting. I was then pretty hot, so I had a glass of water (straight from the tap, we’re not fancy enough for a water cooler). It felt refreshing but I wouldn’t say it cooled me down. I did a couple of more laps, after which I felt absolutely knackered and yep, quite hot, so it was time to head over to our dear friend the slushy machine. 

It’s getting hot in herre

I made myself a mix of the pink slushy and the white slushy (I forget what flavours they are, and really, it doesn’t matter), and began to consume it. It was cold. I still felt hot. I continued. I began to feel a little cooler. I tried to drink it quickly and gave myself killer brain freeze. I slowed down. I still felt hot, but the slushy helped a little.

After a while I got sick of wearing all the clothes and my colleagues were giving me weird looks so I derobed. But I continued to feel hot. I still feel hot as I write. I may never feel cool again. I may spontaneously combust at any moment in a scene reminiscent of the demise of Dickon (snigger) and Randyll Tarly but again, without the dragons.

Does that mean the slushy failed? It’s really hard to say, as a) this was a poorly executed experiment and b) I am sitting in direct sunlight and can’t be bothered moving.

Can I make slushies at home?

Reader, you sure can, but it might be a bit of a poor man’s slushy. Special freezable cup thingies like these cost less than $30 and do the trick, with results that will impress the easily impressed (eg small children or those who don’t get out much). You could also do it in a blender with lots of ice, or you could splash out a couple of hundred bucks and rent a proper one for a day or two, like we did at The Spinoff (my friend also got one for her hen’s night – I had too many frozen margaritas and lost my favourite jacket in scenes reminiscent of Bart and Milhouse’s squishee bender.)

If you’re making boozy slushies, you’ll be wanting to up the flavour components as freezing dilutes the taste, innit. You will find some handy hints here and here.

Wrap your lips around that and enjoy.


The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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