The truth about the latest food fad in the UAE – freakshakes

Freakshakes – the fully-stacked milkshakes look amazing and taste great – but nutritionists are horrified. We take a closer look.

A freakshake from The Sum of Us. Courtesy The Sum of Us
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If you are yet to encounter a freakshake, you soon will. These monster-sized milkshakes are the latest food craze popping up on menus across the country.

Taking the shake to a whole new level, these calorie bombs are fully stacked with guilt-laden, belt-busting extras such as biscuits, cakes, chocolate bars – and more besides.

Reportedly created at Pattisez, a cafe in Canberra in 2015, the massive, augmented shakes soon spread to the United Kingdom and North America. The Chicago Tribune put freakshakes on its list of this year's hottest US food trends.

“Freakshakes have become hugely popular,” says chef Gavin Cubitt, from The Black Lion in Dubai’s H Hotel. “They are great for sharing with friends and they photograph brilliantly, so people can show them off on social media.”

In fact, this is the key to the rise of the freakshake. A large part of their appeal is to the sweet tooth of diners and also to the social-media generation. Search for #freakshake on Instagram, for example, and you get more than 55,000 hits.

“Freakshakes have taken over many Instagram profiles – and they taste as good as they look,” says Amandine Desnoux, chef de partie at Marriott Hotel Downtown, Abu Dhabi. “They’re a guilty pleasure for many.”

Dream toppings

It is the toppings that set freakshakes apart from the traditional milkshake. Often served in mason jar glasses, freakshakes take the traditional ingredients of ice cream, milk and cream and then pile them high with toppings that include chocolate bars, biscuits, brownies, whole pieces of cake or pie, peanut butter, candy floss and other sweets – plus, whipped cream, caramel and a variety of sauces on top.

In the world of freakshakes, looks matter.

“You eat with your eyes,” says Cubitt. “A spectacular freakshake can have your mouth watering just by looking at a picture.”

Similarly, the stature of the shake and the creativity in its construction are important parts of the appeal.

“They’re basically oversized, pimped-out milkshakes,” says Desnoux. “The main ingredients are ice cream, sauce and cream and then any additional toppings can be added. The bigger, the better.”

Central Grounds at Marriott Hotel Downtown has seven freakshakes on the menu, which cost Dh45.

“Our most over-the-top freakshake is the Mud Pot, with white chocolate ice cream, Valrhona chocolate sauce, a chocolate brownie, mud cake and vanilla ice cream. It’s a real chocolate bomb,” says Desnoux.

At The Black Lion in Dubai, the recently added freakshakes are proving to be a big hit.

“We have a new freakshake that is pretty epic,” says Cubitt. “It’s made using strawberry ice cream, milk, cream, whipped cream, vanilla cheesecake, a pecan brownie, strawberry laces, white chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce.”

Weight a minute

While freakshakes are trending as Instagram-worthy works of art, regular consumption of these high-calorie monster milkshakes is, unsurprisingly, not recommended by nutritionists.

“Freakshakes advocate the notion of overindulgence, which is exactly the opposite of what health professionals preach: moderation,” says Sara Ismail, a dietician at the Green Central Diet Center in Abu Dhabi.

“They are showing us that we can eat all that we love from sugary, processed food in one cup, all at one time.”

The calories in a typical freakshake add up quickly.

“A typical 12-ounce chocolate milkshake contains up to 560 calories,” says Ismail. “Add to that a slice of cake, for 250 calories, a handful of candy, for 100 calories, a splash of whipped cream and the list keeps going. These can go up to at least 1,500 calories.”

In fact, the calorie count of The Black Lion’s Strawberry Volcano Freakshake is 2,300 – so proceed with caution.

Out of flavour

While social-media images suggest there are plenty of people who will ignore the calorie content and happily sip a freakshake, others are less impressed.

Cirine Mazloum tried her first one last week at Fume in Dubai – and says it will be her last.

“It looks delicious, but it’s too big, even with four people sharing it,” she says. “It’s full of calories.”

Rabih Fazzaa, who shared the freakshake with Mazloum, says it was also his first.

“I loved the cheesecake on top,” he says, of Fume’s strawberry freakshake. “But it’s too fatty for me. There are a lot of calories in this.”

Dietician Ismail, who described the sweet treat as “obesity in a cup”, says even as an occasional treat, freakshakes may be too much.

“Ideally, you should steer away from these,” she says. “You are really not missing out on anything. It’s just a combination of processed, calorie-dense sugary items that you have tasted before separately, not altogether. We should not be viewing these shakes as treats. They are a health wreck.”

Abu Dhabi nutritionist Caroline Bienert agrees. “Why do we need this extra 1,500 calories?” she asks. “And in liquid form? It is so hard on our system to metabolise these drinks. It just runs through the body and leaves the 1,500 calories.”

Even for people who regularly exercise and burn lots of calories, freakshakes are on the no-go list for many nutritionists.

“I would not suggest these at all,” says Bienert. “My advice is to not order these kinds of drinks.”

Movers and shakers

Regardless of calorie content, the freakshake frenzy is unlikely to fade any time soon. A growing number of restaurants in the UAE are adding the decadent treats to menus, aware that these monster shakes are social-media gold.

“We notice a huge amount of people posting pictures of them on social media and everyone always raves about telling their friends,” says Cubitt. “Freakshakes have massive wow factor.”