Ice Cream Taster With Million-Dollar Insured Tongue Savors His Job


At 7:30 a.m. most weekdays, John Harrison takes out his gold teaspoon and starts in on the ice cream.

First he checks the vanillas, looking for a flavor that’s “subtle but not overpowering,” then come the fruity concoctions and, finally, the “Bordeaux” of ice cream, the fudges and chocolates.

After years as an ice cream taster, Harrison knows he’s got a job that’s hard to lick.

“Can you imagine getting paid and paid well for this?” he asked during an interview at the officers here of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc.


Company officials, happy that Harrison hasn’t lost his taste for the job in the 10 years he has worked for Dreyer’s, decided to put their money where his mouth is, insuring his taste buds for $1 million.

“His tongue is so crucial to our business,” said company spokeswoman Jenifer Howard.

The policy, written by American International Life Insurance, was taken out in April, she said.

Harrison said he doesn’t believe he’s any different than the average ice cream eater.

“I don’t believe I have a special talent. My taste buds . . . are not necessarily better than anyone else’s, they’ve just been trained,” he said.

Ice cream runs deep in the Harrison family, including a grandfather who owned a couple of ice cream parlors in New York, a father who ran an ice cream ingredient company in Atlanta and an uncle who had an ice cream factory.

“During the summer months I worked there. I kind of ate my way through the summer months,” Harrison said.

After starting out as an assistant taster for his uncle, Harrison finally became head taster at Dreyer’s, which is headquartered in Oakland. The company sells premium brands in 13 western states and sells under the brand name of Edy’s in the Midwest, the District of Columbia, Georgia and the New York metropolitan area.


In California, Harrison checks random samples from batches of ice cream before they are shipped out each day, starting at 7:30 a.m. when his taste buds are fresh.

“I start with the white wines of ice cream--vanilla, French vanilla--and work my way up to the Bordeaux of fudge,” he said.

Using lukewarm water or an unsalted cracker as a palate cleanser, Harrison chops open cartons of ice cream to make sure that the ingredients are evenly distributed and then rolls a sample over his tongue to check for consistency, texture and flavor.

“I am looking for the top notes--the fine balance if you will--of the cream, the sweeteners or the added flavor. As I roll it around my mouth and spit it out, I bring the aroma back to my nose and that’s the top note,” he said.

“There’s a drawback to every job,” he noted, “In my case I don’t swallow, I spit it out.”

Each year, of the 40 million gallons of ice cream produced, about 100,000 gallons are rejected by Harrison and his assistants. The rejections wind up at local food banks.