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9 Types of Ice and Their Various Uses

9 Types of Ice and Their Various Uses

For most people, ice is just ice; frozen water is used to cool drinks. However, look closer at the ice options at restaurants and bars, and you will find a whole world of icy varieties! Gone are the days when a basic ice cube sufficed for every drink. 

Today there are numerous ice varieties designed to chill, dilute, add crunch, or provide visual appeal. Flaked, crushed, nugget, and specialty ice each serve specific roles. When the right ice is matched properly to a beverage or dish, it elevates the guest experience.

Therefore, understanding the different types of ice allows food service staff to tailor it precisely to menu needs. Join us as we explore the surprising diversity of ice types commonly found in restaurants, cocktail lounges, and event catering, examining their form, purpose, and unique benefits.

Regular Cube Ice

regular ice cubes

The standard ice cube measures approximately 2" x 2" x 2" and features a cloudy, opaque appearance. These moderate-sized ice cubes offer a satisfying crunch, slower melt rate, and subtle cooling. Their versatility makes regular cube ice suitable for everyday uses like soft drinks, water, juices, and cocktails. The opaque cubes blend discretely into beverages. With good chilling power and chew, cube ice handles the most common needs at restaurants, cafes, bars, and food counters and can simply be made with a cube-style ice maker.

Full-Dice Ice

full dice ice cubes

Similar to regular cubes, full-dice ice offers the same crunch and opacity in a smaller, 1" square cube size. The decreased surface area compared to flake ice allows for a balanced chill and dilution rate. Full-dice ice chills down drinks rapidly due to the increased surface area versus standard cubes. It blends smoothly into beverages with a pleasant chewing texture. Full-dice ice is ideal for quickly chilling fountain sodas, iced tea, lemonade, and other fast-paced beverage service.

Half-Dice Ice

half dice ice cubes

Half-dice ice cubes measure just 0.5" square, offering even faster chilling with more surface area exposure. The tiny cubes rapidly cool down drinks like soft drinks, shakes, and blended coffee drinks. Half-dice ice melts quickly, making it best for beverages served and consumed promptly. The small cubes are harder to chew, so they are better suited for commercial use than leisurely sipping.

Nugget Ice

nugget ice cubes

Nugget ice, also known as Sonic ice, consists of small, compressed frozen ice pellets. Nugget ice has a chewable, soft texture similar to wet snow or a snow cone; the nuggets cool drinks rapidly while providing a fun, chewy quality. They are created with nugget ice machines using an impulse freezing process. This type of ice is popular at bars, cafes, and soda fountains for icy cold sodas, milkshakes, smoothies, and blended coffee beverages. The small shape allows nugget ice to flow easily up straws. In addition, the irregular nuggets suspend better in drinks than traditional cubes.

Flake Ice

flake ice

As the name implies, flake ice consists of small, thin flakes of irregularly shaped ice. The high surface area to volume ratio allows flake ice to cool drinks quickly. Flake ice is often used in chilled display cases to keep seafood cold. It can also rapidly chill foods at salad bars and buffet lines. In beverages, the small flakes create a slushy, wet texture that blends smoothly into drinks. Flake ice is popular in fruit smoothies, milkshakes, snow cones, and some cocktails like daiquiris. The flakes are soft enough to chew easily and won't leave hard chunks in drinks.

Bullet Shaped Ice

bullet ice cubes

Bullet-shaped ice is cylindrical like tube ice but more elongated at 2-3 inches long. Bullet ice has a high surface area for quick chilling, with a shape that cools drinks rapidly while adding visual interest. The length allows for easy gripping and swirling. This makes bullet ice ideal for cooling whiskies and cocktails without quickly melting away. Many whiskey stones are shaped like bullets to provide chilling without dilution.

Crescent Shaped Ice

crescent ice cubes

Crescent-shaped ice cubes deliver visual brilliance and practical cooling. The elegant crescent shape highlights beverage colors, allowing fruit garnishes to perch attractively on the glass rim. Crescent ice chills drinks slowly, preventing excess dilution while accentuating presentation with its curved silhouette. Crescent cubes come in standard and jumbo sizes. They excel when used in cocktails, juices, and even water.

Gourmet Ice

gourmet ice

Gourmet ice sculptures and blocks carved by hand to resemble various shapes like roses, spheres, and hearts are ideal for adding drama during events and catered functions, perfect for upscale cocktails and restaurants seeking to impress. For instance, diamond, heart, star, and asymmetrical ice shapes add flair, while luminous cubes glow with embedded flowers or edible glitter. While the chilling power of gourmet ice is limited due to its lower surface area, the eye-catching features create a memorable visual and quality impression.

Tulip Shaped Ice

tulip ice cubes

Tulip-shaped ice combines form and function for a sublime experience. The round, bulbous ends provide a significant cooling surface area for rapid chilling. The curved stem shape allows tulip ice to showcase beverage colors in style. This artistic ice elevates the visuals of cocktails, teas, lemonade, spirits, and detailed plated drinks. Ultimately, tulip ice works best in glasses where the full shape can shine.


Not all ice is made equal, as the array of shapes, sizes, and styles each serve specific roles. Food service staff can enhance food or drink presentation, chilling, and customer experience by selecting ice tailored for the menu. Everything from cocktails to soda fountain drinks can benefit from the right ice. So, the next time you are served a cold beverage, take a moment to appreciate the ice served, as its unique characteristics may have been specially chosen to enhance your drink!


What are the three main types of ice?

There are three main types of ice - cube ice, nugget ice, and flake ice.

Why are there different forms of ice?

Different forms of ice have been developed to suit different purposes. Cube ice is versatile for cooling drinks. Nugget ice has a soft, chewable texture that is enjoyable to consume directly. Flake ice has a large surface area that cools food and drinks rapidly. On the other hand, specialty ice like pearl, snowflake, and spherical ice provide more of a visual appeal.

What is the coldest type of ice?

While all forms of ice will eventually reach the same temperature (32 degrees Fahrenheit), nugget ice tends to stay coldest the longest. This is because the spherical shape and small size of nugget ice lead to significantly less surface area for heat transfer. With less surface area exposed, nugget ice retains cold temperatures for a long time before fully melting.

What are rare types of ice?

Some uncommon types of ice include:

  • Pearl ice: small, round spheres made by dripping water through pins, providing visual interest.
  • Snowflake ice: thin, irregular flakes with elaborate shapes that melt slowly due to density.
  • Square ice cubes: cubes with square shapes made in specialty molds that are aesthetically pleasing.

How many types of ice are there?

There are around 15-20 different types of ice produced today. Though cube, nugget, and flake ice are the most common, specialty ice continues to grow in popularity due to its visual appeal and unique textures.