What Exactly Is Soft Ice? (and How Is It Made?)

Depending on how ice is made it can be harder and firmer and difficult to chew or it can very soft and chewy. Different ice can serve different purposes and can really impact the flavor of your drinks.

Ice is not just ice, especially to mixologists and wine and whiskey aficionados. A popular new style of ice is called soft ice or nugget ice. But what exactly is soft ice and how is it different to hard ice?

Soft ice is softer in texture to regular ice as it either contains lots of air bubbles or is flaked ice that is then compressed into nuggets. Soft ice is less dense than regular ice and has a more chewable texture making it highly desirable in some drinks.

Sonic, nugget, or soft ice is actually pretty easy to make at home if you know what you're doing. There are ice makers on the market that make soft nugget ice, but you can make it without buying an expensive machine. Here, we discuss what soft ice is, the different types of soft ice, and how to make this deliciously chewable form of ice at home. 

What Is Soft Ice And Why Is It So Popular?

Soft ice is a type of ice that is different to solid, clear cubes of ice. There are a few different styles of soft ice, but they all have one thing in common: they contain little pockets of air that make them more chewable or they are much smaller in size making them more easy to chew.

Soft ice is still made up of water and it isn't chemically any different to regular ice, it's just made to be less dense.

Hard ice is clear, whereas soft ice is white. Check out this article that gives an in-depth comparison between clear and white ice. 

Soft ice has many advantages. It is great for using in sodas, cocktails, iced coffee, or iced tea. Because the pieces of ice are smaller than regular ice cubes, they cool drinks down faster.

Because soft ice is less dense than cubed ice, it is much easier to munch on and the ice seems to absorb the flavors of the drink making them extra delicious to chew on.

Ice machines in old age care facilities, hospitals, and hotels have dispensed soft ice for decades. However, this type of ice gained massive popularity in recent years because of the fast-food chain, Sonic. 

Sonic is mainly available in the Southern and Midwestern US. It's cherry limeade soda that is full of nugget ice went viral on TikTok in 2020, and this kick-started the craze for soft ice. Soft ice has since attracted a cult-like following.

There are Different Types Of Soft Ice

There are four main types of soft ice. Each one is made slightly differently, and each has its advantages for various uses and can be made in different ways.

Nugget Ice

Regular ice vs nugget ice size comparison

Nugget ice is the most popular type of soft ice. It simply looks like miniature ice cubes and are much smaller in size than regular ice cubes.

Depending on how they are made nugget ice can look like regular ice cubes or they can look white and opaque. This is because nugget ice machines work by compressing flakes of ice together into the nugget shape people have grown to love.

Because nugget ice is smaller and usually less dense, you can easily chew it, and it has a very enjoyable mouthfeel. Nugget ice is great for using in blended drinks, like smoothies and for cocktails and sodas.

When you make nugget ice with a machine like the Opal Nugget Ice Maker the soft flakey texture of the nugget ice also allows it to absorb the flavors of the drink better leading to an even more delicious taste.

The problem with nugget ice makers is their cost. They tend to cost around $500 or so and they are fairly large machines so they can take up a lot of bench space. However, a lot of people feel nugget ice machines are worth the money because they make nugget ice that is better than anything you can make in a regular freezer.

There are many different models of nugget ice makers available on the market. Nugget ice makers produce ice far more quickly than normal machines – here’s how.

Nugget ice trays are much more affordable and this is the option that I have gone with. My kids absolutely LOVE nugget ice and it means they drink more water and when they have soda I feel a bit sneaky because the ice (which is just water) takes up most of the cup so they end up consuming less sugar.

They are essentially like regular ice trays, but the cells are much smaller. They are usually made from silicone. I use and recommend the silicone nugget ice trays linked below. Otherwise check out the plastic nugget ice trays on my list of the best easy release ice cube trays.

See the latest price of the Silicone Mini Ice Cube Tray at Amazon

Crushed Ice

Crushed ice is just regular hard ice cubes that have been broken up into little pieces. It is the type of ice that is traditionally used in a mint julep cocktail.

The small bits of crushed ice melt quickly, cooling your drink down fast. The bits of ice are small enough that you can easily chew them.

There are a few different ways you can make crushed ice and some are more effective than others.

One way is to put your ice cubes in a blender and pulse it quickly – you do not want an ice slushie! You have to use a blender that is powerful enough to pulverize ice. Some blenders have plastic parts that can easily be damaged if you blend ice. 

However, I found the best way to make pebble ice was to take regular ice cubes and wrap them in a tea towel. Then place them on a chopping board and use a hammer to crush up the ice.

The tea towel keeps the ice contained and also absorbs any melted ice. Just make sure not to hit the ice too much (it's very tempting to) as this turns your ice cubes into ice flakes, not small crushed ice.

Cubed Soft Ice With Carbonated Water

Cubed soft ice is the same size as a regular ice cube, but instead of being rock-hard, it breaks up easily when you crush it between your teeth. This is because soft ice cubes are full of little air bubbles.

It is very easy to make cubed soft ice – as simple as making regular ice. All you need is an ice tray with medium-sized cells and some carbonated water or club soda. 

Pour the fizzy water into the cells of the tray, filling them to about three-quarters of the way full. Put the ice tray into the freezer for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight). 

To check if your cubed soft ice is ready, press down into one of the filled cells. If your finger pushes into the ice or it cracks, it needs to freeze for longer. 

When cubed soft ice has frozen, it has a cloudy appearance. It is not clear like regular hard ice cubes. But don't worry cloudy ice is completely safe to consume, it's just the air bubbles that make it look cloudy.

You can remove cubed soft ice from the tray by tapping the bottom of the tray on the counter and inverting the tray. If you're struggling to get the ice out a good ice cube tray hack is to place the bottom of the ice cube tray in hot water for a few seconds and this will melt the ice cubes a little allowing them to slide out easily.

Shaved Ice

Shaved ice consists of flakes of ice. It is the type you see at fish markets because it is often used to keep fresh produce cold. It is very soft and almost snow-like.

Shaved ice is essentially regular ice that has been processed into flakes. Shaved ice is made using a shaved ice machine, or you can simply make nugget ice and then crush it in the blender. 

This soft flakey ice can then be compressed and stuck together to make extremely delicious and chewy soft ice cubes that you can put in drinks, or you can just turn it into a snow cone.

Getting an electric ice shaver is a cheap and easy way to make saved ice and it's great for making treats for the kids.

See the latest price of the Hawaiian Electric Ice Shaver at Amazon


It is no wonder that soft ice has gained such popularity. It is so much better than hard ice in certain circumstances. Soft ice make drinks taste better and it feels so good to chew on.

Soft ice also cools down drinks faster and because so much is used your ice can last longer like it does in restaurants.

To find out more about how to make fancy ice at home, check out this article detailing how to make soft and chewy ice at home. There are 7 different techniques you can use.