An ice cream cone might be the universal symbol of summer, but let’s face it: cold, delicious ice cream-based beverages are an all-season treat. The thing is,  not all milkshakes are created equal. In fact, when you’re talking about a milkshake, you might not actually be talking about a milkshake at all. You could be talking about a frappe, a cabinet, a malt, or any variety of milkshakey, brand-specific beverage. (Is there really such a big difference between a Vanilla Bean Frappuccino and a vanilla milkshake? Not really.) So, how can you tell a malt vs shake? It's not so hard.

A Milkshake Technically Has No Ice Cream in It

I know, right? Take a second for your mind to recover. Technically speaking, a milkshake is exactly what it sounds like: milk, with some kind of flavoring syrup, shaken until it’s cold and frothy. Imagine what you’d get if you made chocolate milk in a cocktail shaker with ice.

When you ask for a “milkshake,” you’re really asking for a blended beverage made from milk, flavoring and ice cream. And that, my friends, is a frappe. It’s a distinction that only lives on in old school dairies in the wilds of New England. Everyone else in the world thinks a milkshake is a milkshake.

Unless, that is, you want a cabinet, aka a coffee frappe. It’s very specifically a Rhode Island thing, which I only know because I’ve lived there for half my life. Our official state beverage is coffee milk, which, if you haven’t had it, you should definitely try it. We also have more Dunkin' Donuts per capita than anywhere else in the world, so we take our coffee kind of seriously. But even still, I would guess a solid amount of Rhode Islanders wouldn’t be able to define a cabinet in the culinary sense. So, let’s just call a milkshake a milkshake and move on. 

So, Then, What’s a Malt?

A malt is another variety of milkshake, but one that has an additional ingredient: malted milk powder. Yes, it sounds gross, but bear with me on this one. Malted milk powder, made from malted barley, wheat flour and whole milk, is actually incredibly delicious. It’s a little bit sweet and a little bit savory, kind of like a prehistoric version of salted caramel.

If you’ve ever had Whoppers or those Robin’s Egg candies that are everywhere at Easter, you know exactly how good malted milk can be. Considering it’s a holdover from the old timey soda fountain days — when soda jerks were still a thing — you don’t see many places serving malts anymore. But if you do, just try one. You won’t regret it.

And if you’re feeling like the options around you aren’t creative enough, you can always pimp your own milkshake. Even better, add booze