Purple cow float is an old-fashioned beverage made with just 2 simple ingredients; purple grape soda and vanilla ice cream.
It's a two-in-one, dessert-and-drink treat for kids. And is also perfect for adults like me, who occasionally want to enjoy life's simple pleasures.
I missed out on having floats as a childhood treat — it wasn't really a thing in the place and time I grew up. But that hasn't stopped me from exploring the world of floats.
What is purple cow float?
Purple cow float is a delightful and nostalgic beverage that combines grape soda with the creamy texture of vanilla ice cream.
You'll likely come across few different versions of this drink — but more on that later.
A little background
The origins of the Purple cow float can be traced back to the iconic American soda fountain culture of the early 20th century.
While the exact birth date of this float remains a mystery, there seems to be some consensus that it first appeared in the 1930s.
And how did the name purple cow come about?
Well some folks think a poem from late 1800s may have inspired the name. Others believe it is derived from float's purple and white appearance, and the term cow is a playful reference to the use of dairy (ice cream).
Some even make a connection to a restaurant that had the same name.
Why you'll love it?
- Fun twist on floats — although not as popular as root beer float or coke float but is equally good if not better.
- Easy to make — requires only 2 ingredients and gets ready in under 2 minutes.
- Kid-friendly — the unique color, creamy fizzy texture and great taste combine to create a fabulous treat for kids.
- Versatile — choose grape juice instead of soda if you want to avoid pop. You can also use vanilla-flavored frozen yogurt for a healthy-ish choice.
- Adaptable for adults — add a little vodka and you have a drink for the adult crowd.
Here are some helpful notes on the 2 simple ingredients (plus optional topping) you'll need to make this purple cow float. See the recipe card below for exact quantities.
- Grape soda — I use Crush grape soda (the one you see in the photo above) but any purple-colored grape-flavored soda sold in your region will do. Some may find these sodas too sweet, in which case you can try a combo of grape juice concentrate and low-sodium club soda. Follow the package instructions for the right amount and ratio of grape concentrate and soda. And if you want to skip soda altogether, you can use store-bought grape juice.
- Vanilla ice cream — Feel free to use your favorite brand, dairy-based or vegan. You can also opt for vanilla-flavored frozen yogurt, but it might slightly alter the taste.
- Maraschino cherry (optional) — use this or choose one (or more) of the other toppings I've shared later in the FAQs. Toppings are optional of course.
How to make purple cow float
Follow these simple, photo-assisted instructions to prepare this grape soda float. Check out the recipe card below for a printable version that has quantities, instructions and notes all in one place.
Slowly pour chilled grape soda into a tall/big glass.
Then carefully place two small scoops vanilla ice cream into the glass.
Place maraschino cherry on top of the ice cream. Enjoy right away!
Purple cow float vs purple cow shake
Although the names Purple Cow Float and Purple Cow Shake may give the impression that these are just different names for the same drink — there are actually a few differences.
- Ingredients — Both drinks share common ingredients like vanilla ice cream and a grape-flavored purple beverage. However the float typically combines grape soda with ice cream while the shake has grape juice or grape juice concentrate. The shake may also include yogurt, milk and/or natural sweeteners.
- Experience — Float offers a dessert kind of experience (sipping the soda and eating the ice cream), while shake is only a beverage.
- Variations — Shake is more versatile in terms of customization. You can add frozen fruits (e.g. purple grapes, blueberries or blackberries) as well as different types of milk, yogurts or ice creams. The float tends to stick to the classic combo of grape soda (or grape concentrate with club soda) and vanilla ice cream.
- Chill the soda — using well-chilled grape soda will ensure that your ice cream doesn't melt too quickly. Using ice to chill the float will water down the flavors.
- Use tall/big glass — not just for visual appeal, but to be able to enjoy the float comfortably with both a spoon and straw.
- Serve immediately — make the float just before serving for that perfect temperature and texture. This is not a make-ahead kinda drink.
- Use toppings — use toppings for an extra layer of fun, flavor and texture.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Purple cow float is made with grape soda and vanilla ice cream. Brown cow float (aka root beer float) consists of root beer and vanilla ice cream. Some variations of the brown cow float may include chocolate syrup and/or chocolate ice cream. The term black cow float can sometimes be used interchangeably with brown cow float, but it can also refer to float made with coca cola instead of root beer.
So many different types out there! Apart from the ones I've already mentioned above, popular ones include dr pepper float, Boston cooler (aka ginger ale float), creamsicle float (aka orange soda float), 7 up / sprite float and cherry soda float.
Some good choices include whipped cream, maraschino cherry, sprinkles, chocolate shavings, crushed cookies, chocolate syrup, fruit syrups and shredded coconut.
It's an old-fashioned drink so might be hard to find. Some old diners may have it on their menu, and a few Shake Shack locations still carry it.
Variations of purple cow float
If you're looking to switch things up, here are a few ideas to customize your float:
- Fresh/frozen fruits — take a glass and throw in some grapes, blueberries or blackberries, mash up using a muddler and then pour in grape soda. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
- Grape juice — use fresh or bottled grape juice instead of grape soda. The color and flavor might be a bit different/dull if you're using fresh juice since there won't be any added flavors or colors.
- Spiked float — for a grown-up version, add a little grape vodka to the grape soda before adding the ice cream on top.
- Grape concentrate — a version from the 1960s suggests adding couple tablespoons of concentrated grape juice to a glass along with some vanilla ice cream and then some carbonated water.
- Different ice cream flavors — vanilla ice cream is the traditional choice but feel free to try different flavors.
- 1 cup (237 ml) grape soda - (Note A for substitutes)
- 2 small scoops vanilla ice cream - (Note B)
- 1 maraschino cherry - optional (Note C for topping ideas)
- Pour chilled grape soda slowly into a tall / large glass. Adjust the quantity based on the size of your glass. Fill no more than half of the glass capacity.
- Next, add two small scoops vanilla ice cream into the glass.
- Lastly, add a maraschino cherry on top of ice cream. Serve and enjoy right away!
The nutritional information provided here is calculated using a third-party nutrition calculator. These values are estimates, and we cannot guarantee the correctness of the displayed numbers. Please see our disclaimer page.