A Brief History of Ice Cream

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Video Origins of ice cream

By Sarah Lohman

The history of ice cream begins with snow. Historians know it was collected from mountains in 4th century Japan; and was stored regularly in snow houses Europe by the 15th century. The earliest frozen desserts were snow with flavored sugar syrups poured over top. These desserts have been found in China, and notable in Persian culture, often called sharbate or serbert, flavored with lemons, rosewater, citrons, violets, or ambergris (an aromatic whale secretion). In Europe, fruit flavors were popular as well as nuts, like hazelnut and pistachio.

In the mid 16th century, scientists discovered that by mixing salt or saltpeter (potassium nitrate) with ice, you could lower the freezing temperature of water to almost zero degrees. Before this innovation, ice could only be used to a cool liquids; but this process allowed chefs to be able to freeze liquids. Some of the first things to be frozen were the “sarbates,” creating the earliest sorbets. Sorbets, or sorbetti, was adapted as the earliest word for any sort of frozen dessert. Many of these desserts were developed in Italy, particularly around Naples.

The first known recipe for ice cream appears in the handwritten recipe book of Lady Anne Fanshawe, a British noblewoman who saw ice cream being made in the Spanish court. In the 1660s, she suggested flavoring ice cream with mace, orange flower water, or ambergris.

The first published ice cream recipes appear in Italy in 1692, and feature fruit and nut flavors, as well as the first recipe for chocolate ice cream. Other early flavors include musk (a glandular secretion of a species of deer), saffron, laurel leaves (bay leaf), crumbled cookies and drinks like tea and coffee. Vanilla doesn’t appear in ice cream recipes until the 1760s, and even then it would have been used very rarely.

Technology changed the ice cream industry in the 19th century. The crank ice cream maker was invented in Philadelphia in 1843, delivered a consistently smooth and creamy ice cream with very little work. The ice industry was also expanded: ice was harvested from lakes in the winter, and stored in ice houses where it could last until the following October. In was shipped from New England around the country and around the world. In 1833, Boston began making regular shipments of ice to Calcutta, and ice was being shipped to the West Indies three decades before that.

These technological advancements spurred the opening of several hundred ice cream parlours in New York City by the middle of the 19th century, both uptown for dandies and fancy ladies, and along the Bowery for the working class. These parlours were places where it was socially acceptable for men and women could socialize together, unlike bars, which were for the most part for men only.

The first ice cream cone appears in a drawing of a French ice cream parlour in 1807. They were popularized in America a century later, at the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair. Right after the fair, ice cream cone manufacturers and ice cream cone stands opened up across the country.

Currently, vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor in America. According to the International Ice Cream Association, 30% of ice cream eaters prefer vanilla, while a mere 10% prefer chocolate.

I’m an amaretto gelato gal, myself. Where’s your favorite ice cream store, and what your favorite flavor?

Getting the best ice cream near me is easy! Find the nearest ice cream shop with our store locator. View hours, contact information, maps and driving directions

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