The Amazing History of Ice Cream
What is the history of ice cream?
What would a hot summer day be without the ever-refreshing and sweet scoop of ice cream? What would childhood be without hearing the excitement-inducing jingle of a passing ice cream truck? Who do we have to thank for inventing this creamy delicacy, where did it come from, and how long has this treat been around? It seems as if it has been around forever, but that can certainly not be the case. After reading some of my previous posts about the origins and history of popular foods, it may not be surprising to find out that the original treat did not very much resemble the creamy snack found in our fridges.
There are many myths surrounding the origins of ice cream, but its invention most likely took place in the ancient world. The Bible even mentions King Solomon’s penchant for a certain icy beverage during the yearly harvest season1. Alexander the Great was also known for enjoying similar icy drinks flavored with sweet additions such as wine or honey. But where did this ice come from in the first place?
It is believed, at least during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, that ice was harvested from the surrounding mountains and were stored in special “ice houses” which contained pits in the ground. The ice would be placed in the pits and covered with straw in order to stay as cool as possible. This practice of storing ice indoors was also one of the first uses of air conditioning1.
The History of Ice Cream
These icy drinks, sweetened not only with honey and wine but also different fruit juices such as pomegranate and cherry, remained popular in the Middle East well into the medieval period. Eventually, these drinks grew in popularity and quickly spread to Europe. The Italians and the French were known to have mastered the art of making these sweet, icy beverages.
Despite this knowledge, we know that today’s ice cream is not just ice. The cream part is arguably just as important as the ice part. So, where did the cream come from? China’s Emperors of the Tang Dynasty are believed to be the first people in the world to consume a dairy-based frozen delicacy that resembled today’s variety1. The dairy part, of course, came from cow or goat milk. Camphor was also added to this ancient treat to alter its texture and flavor. The whole dairy mixture would then slowly be added to ice where it would freeze and become thick and creamy.
Marco Polo is commonly credited with bringing this treat from China to Italy, but this is likely a myth2. However, it is known that when the Italian noblewoman Catherine De Medici was wed to Henry II of France, during her relocation to France she brought with her many servants and chefs who, in turn, brought their knowledge of how to make the frozen dessert today known as sorbet2.
However, the original Italian name for this delicacy was sorbetto. A man from Naples, Italy, named Antonio Latini in the 17th century is known for being the first person to ever write down the recipe for the sorbetto. However, not only is he know for the sorbetto, but he is also credited with inventing a milk-based sorbetto which was considered the very first true ice cream, at least by modern standards1.
Since the 17th century, the art of ice cream making continued to flourish. In France, custard-based treats became especially popular2. Ice cream soon made its way to America through European immigrants in the 1700s, and by this time, many recipe books were hitting the shelves. For dinner parties, ice cream would often be placed in a molds to form the dessert into certain shapes such as vegetables, animals, and fruits2. The very first parlor opened in New York City in 1790. It has been one of the world’s favorite treats ever since.
1. Avey, Tory. (2012). “Explore the Delicious History of Ice Cream.” PBS. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/explore-the-delicious-history-of-ice-cream/.
2. Williams, Corey. (2020). “Who Invented Ice Cream?” MyRecipes. Retrieved from https://www.myrecipes.com/how-to/cooking-questions/who-invented-ice-cream.