Cost of Living

The taste of bran and vanilla ice cream, together at last — at least in Nova Scotia

Grapenut ice cream contains neither grapes nor nuts, but it's one of several unique ice cream flavours that started in Nova Scotia and remain very popular there. But why isn't it a product for sale anywhere except the East Coast?

Why can't you find grapenut ice cream anywhere outside the Atlantic regions?

This batch of grapenut ice cream is homemade, rather than from the ice cream parlour. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Remember Grape-Nuts?

The nutty-flavoured, crunchy cereal that, perhaps, appealed to generations who responded to advertising slogans like "it fills you up, not out" and "if you love yourself and love staying healthy, eat a nutritious breakfast including Grape-Nuts cereal."

It's not a common sight in Canadian cereal aisles anymore, but can still be commonly found in many ice cream freezers — as an ingredient in grapenut ice cream.

Unless you are looking for it in, say, Alberta.

"It's something that you just can't find [outside Atlantic Canada]," according to Karen Walls, who grew up in Nova Scotia but now lives in southern Alberta.

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"Once the ice cream is gone, you still have something left to chew. It just added some pizzazz to the ice cream," she explained.

Her favourite flavour contains neither grapes nor nuts, but it's one of several unique ice cream flavours that started in Nova Scotia, but is much harder to find elsewhere.

No cereal means no ice cream

According to Industry Canada, there were more than 100 employers in the Ice Cream and Frozen Dessert Manufacturing category in 2019.

Four of those were in Nova Scotia. And the rest of them don't seem to be making flavours like grapenut.

That drives Walls, well, nuts.

"Two weeks ago, we were grocery shopping, my husband I, and I said, 'I need grapenut ice cream!' ... like I'm really missing it. It's like missing lobster to me … feels like home," said Walls, who used to be able to get her favourite variety — sometimes described alternatively as brown bread or bran-flavoured — in Western Canada.

Post Grape-Nuts are sold as part of a balanced breakfast in the 1970s, in this shot from a television commercial of the era. (Post Consumer Brands/YouTube)

But the supply of Grape-Nuts for western manufacturers like the Foothills Creamery in Calgary dried up.

"It became impossible to find the Grape-Nuts cereal. It was actually supposed to be discontinued a few years back," explained Alex Kubinski, brand manager at Foothills Creamery in Calgary.

Temporarily, Foothills actually had an employee's friend who lived in the United States bring up Grape-Nuts cereal from Montana for them to use. 

"But now, it just got to the point where it's just not feasible to drive down south and buy it."

Another ice cream shop in Calgary told CBC Radio that they'd bring back dozens of boxes of Grape-Nuts cereal in their suitcases while on vacation in Florida — just to put into their ice cream to sell by the scoop.

Other than smuggling bran-flavoured cereal and bran-like accessories in one's suitcase, your alternative in Canada for mainstream distribution is to get the ice cream from the Scotsburn Ice Cream Co. in Truro, N.S.

"We are among the very few manufacturers carrying this flavour in Canada," wrote Diane Jubinville in an emailed statement to The Cost of Living.

But Scotsburn would not reveal just how much grapenut ice cream they sell, citing competitive reasons.

Not the only unusual Nova Scotian ice cream

Grapenut ice cream isn't as odd as it gets when it comes to eastern ice creams.

Try moon mist — a combination of banana, grape and bubble gum ice cream.

"It's so extra! In colour, in flavour, in everything," said Jennifer E. Crawford, who is quite possibly the biggest moon mist fan in Canada.

Chef Jennifer Crawford loves moon mist ice cream and says it's 'so extra.' (Jennifer Crawford)

The winner of MasterChef Canada features the flavour — and its colour combinations — on their social media frequently. Not just in food but in clothing choices, manicures and even a crocheted blanket!

But moon mist, however unusual you may consider it, is less of a challenge to locate across Canada. Instagram posts and social media popularity could be one reason why, but ingredients are also a contributor.

Flavour extracts like banana, grape or bubble gum are far easier to source in Canada than Grape-Nuts cereal.

Why Nova Scotia?

But why are these unusual ice cream flavours — grapenut or moon mist are just two examples — popping up in Nova Scotia and not elsewhere?

"If you look at Atlantic Canada, we were somewhat isolated when it came to the beginning of what is basically the industrial food system," explained Simon Thibault, food journalist and author based in Halifax. 

Simon Thibault, a food writer based in Halifax, says Atlantic Canada was uniquely positioned to come up with its own ice cream flavours. (CBC)

According to Thibault, the major points where the Atlantic regions were able to gain access to frozen or canned foods were when the regions were having to make these items for themselves.

A flavour like grapenut wasn't just limited to Nova Scotia, but it was regionally focused. For example, Thibault said the ice cream is easily found in Maine.

As well, there's a unique appeal to going to a creamery or ice cream parlour for a distinctive treat in a province like Nova Scotia.

"Halifax has a population of nearly half a million people, but the province itself has just close to a million.… That means that half of the entire province lives in a rural area and so not everybody is going to gain access to all those kind of fun summer treats in their grocery store," explained Thibault.

While a grocery store might need more extensive availability and distribution, smaller regional ice cream parlours can experiment more, according to Thibault.

"A lot of those flavours are not available usually in your grocery store. So things like, for the longest time, moon mist … was not available in grocery stores for a very long time."

OK but back to grapenut — how do they get it?

So at the end of the day, how does Nova Scotia get its grapenut ice cream? Remember, the Grape-Nuts cereal has been discontinued in Canada, which Post Consumer Brands confirmed in a Facebook post online.

And while the Scotsburn Creamery would not explain their sourcing for CBC Radio, it's unlikely they are stuffing boxes of healthy cereal in their suitcases to come across the border after Florida vacations.

A tub of Scotsburn-produced moon mist ice cream, more widely available than grapenut ice cream, is pictured in 2016. (Melissa Oakley/CBC)

A former president of the company did tell CBC that Scotsburn's supply, at least during his time, was legitimately imported from the United States.

But for anyone else looking to buy large quantities of grapenut ice cream outside of Atlantic Canada, you may be out of luck until and unless Grape-Nuts — the cereal — comes back to Canada.

For now, the bran-flavoured treat may remain a very small scoop in the more than $55 million ice cream industry in Canada. Maybe try switching to moon mist if you need a Haligonian frozen treat?

Produced by Danielle Nerman and Anis Heydari.
Click "listen" at the top of the page to hear this segment, or 
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