No one expects a gourmet experience from hospital food, but hospital ice is a different story.
The ice chips in your drinks when you’re laid up after surgery are delightfully soft and crunchy.
What are these incredible frozen treats? And can you get delicious hospital ice chips anywhere else?
Luckily, you don’t need a prescription to get hospital-quality ice. There are lots of other ways to find those amazing chewable pellets.
Here’s our complete guide to satisfying your craving for hospital ice.
What Are Hospital Ice Chips?
If you’ve never had hospital ice, you might be wondering how good it could really be. But trust us - every reader who’s tried it is drooling right now.
Hospital ice chips are small frozen pellets that are much easier to chomp through than cubed ice. They offer just enough bite resistance to create a pleasant crunch, making them perfect for chewing.
Plus, hospital ice chips full of tiny pores that absorb whatever liquid they’re floating in. If you put hospital ice in a sugary soda or tasty cocktail, each pellet creates a small pop of flavor as you bite.
The secret is in how they’re made. An ordinary ice cube is simply a chunk of water that’s been cooled down enough to freeze solid.
Hospital ice chips are created by scraping up dozens of paper-thin flakes of ice, then mashing them together into little blobs.
The result is somewhere between an ice cube and a snowball, with countless tiny air bubbles inside.
Hospital Ice Chips vs. Nugget Ice
Our description of hospital ice might sound familiar if you’ve heard of nugget ice or pellet ice.
Those are two different names for the same incredible ice, and yes, it’s the same stuff they serve in hospitals.
Other common terms for hospital ice chips include:
Or, our personal favorite:
The Good Ice
Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
However, there are a few similar-sounding names that actually refer to different types of ice.
For example, bullet ice is ordinary solid ice that’s frozen into a rounded, hollow cylinder shape. It looks similar to hospital ice chips, but it’s not nearly as crispy and soft.
And crushed ice is just ground-up ice cubes - chewier than solid ice, but not as fluffy as nugget ice.
Hospital Ice Chips vs. Flaked Ice
One other source of confusion: many hospitals provide two different types of ice. In addition to the mouthwatering pebble ice we’ve been describing, they’ll give some patients flake ice.
What’s the difference? Flake ice is a loose jumble of thin, delicate ice shards, more like snow than cubed ice. It’s what nugget ice looks like before it gets squished into pellets.
You might recognize flake ice as the stuff used to cool down raw shellfish in restaurants. The high surface area of the flakes creates a fast, efficient chilling effect.
Flake ice is great if you just want ice that will slowly melt while you suck on it, while pellet ice is better for chewing.
Where Can You Buy Hospital Ice Chips?
Okay, we’ve established that hospital ice is awesome. Now let's talk about how to get it without pestering the staff at your local medical clinic.
First of all, there are a few big-name restaurant chains that have made the switch to pebble ice.
Sonic is especially famous for its awesome ice, and most of their locations will sell you big bags of it to take home. Here are a few other places to buy hospital ice chips:
Lots of smaller-scale restaurants, bars, and convenience stores also serve the good ice. Ask around to see if anyone knows any nearby eateries that have it. Online forums and social media groups are often good sources of information about local gems.
Are There Hospital Ice Chip Machines For Home Use?
No matter how much you crave hospital ice, you might get sick of lugging bags of it home from Sonic. Luckily, it’s now possible to buy machines to make it right in your house.
They come in two basic varieties. First up are the large under-counter hospital ice makers.
These are sturdy and can often hook right into your water lines for added efficiency. They can make absolutely massive amounts of hospital-style ice - no surprise, since they’re designed for use in busy fast-food kitchens that serve hundreds of customers per day.
These beefy models require a lot of dedicated space in your kitchen, and it can be difficult to find technicians willing to work on a home-installed unit.
However, if you like the idea of having as much hospital ice as you can eat, take a look at our list of the best under-counter hospital ice makers.
If you’re not ready for such a big commitment, you could opt for a smaller countertop machine instead.
These are much more affordable and portable than the under-counter models. And they make the same fantastically chewable hospital ice chips.
The main drawback of the smaller machines is that they don’t last as long. Making hospital ice puts a lot of mechanical strain on the device, and engineers are still figuring out how to make that kind of power work with lightweight kitchen appliances.
But our favorite countertop nugget ice machines have a decent working lifespan if you clean them regularly and use only distilled or filtered water.
How Much Does a Hospital Ice Machine Cost?
What should you expect to pay for a hospital ice machine? The large commercial-style units that actually sit in hospitals tend to cost upwards of $3000.
That’s a hefty price tag, but it ensures that your supply of the good ice will be pretty much limitless.
Smaller countertop hospital ice makers are significantly easier on the wallet.
The best-in-class models will still set you back $400-$600, but that’s a lot more reasonable for a home appliance. We’ve got a post explaining why nugget ice machines are so expensive if you’re curious.
Why Do They Give You Ice Chips in the Hospital?
You may be wondering why medical facilities offer such satisfying ice chips. The biggest reason is that hospital ice chips are helpful for hydration.
Many health issues can make it difficult or painful to swallow gulps of liquid. The slow trickle of water from melting ice chips is easier to get down.
It may also be easier to keep down. Lots of patients are at risk for vomiting when they receive anesthesia before surgery, or when they’re recovering afterward.
And the sensation of drinking liquid can make nausea worse. Sucking on ice chips can relieve the discomfort of hunger and thirst without filling up your stomach.
Hospital ice chips melt faster than standard cubes, making them more efficient at delivering hydration. Plus, even patients who are weakened by illness can usually chew up hospital ice without difficulty.
Ice is also often used in medical settings to relieve inflammation. The soft, rounded edges of nugget ice chips are unlikely to puncture an ice bag.
And hospital ice also molds to your body easily, so you won’t have rock-hard cubes poking against your bruises.
Flavored Hospital Ice Chips
There are scattered reports around the web of hospitals offering flavored ice chips. It’s pretty rare, though, and usually offered mostly in labor and delivery units.
Why is that? Well, it used to be standard practice to tell women to avoid eating or drinking during labor. At that time, the pain medication used during childbirth was delivered through a mask that covered the nose and mouth.
This increased the risk of aspiration if the mother vomited. Flavored ice chips offered a safe and tasty alternative to foods and liquids.
However, modern epidurals come in the form of injections, so most hospitals now allow eating and drinking during labor. Pre-flavored hospital ice chips are going the way of the dinosaurs.
There’s no reason you can’t make your own, though!
Pellet ice is awesome at absorbing flavor, so if you have a way to make it at home, you can easily add some flavored syrups to create bite-sized Italian ice. But don’t put the syrup directly into the machine - that’s a great way to mess up your nugget ice maker.
Hospital ice chips are a refreshing, crunchable treat. And despite the name, they’re available in lots of other places as well.
Whether you’re just looking for a nearby eatery that serves it, or a dedicated home machine, we hope this article helps you quench your craving!