Can Orthodox Jews Indulge in Ice Cream?

Ice cream, the beloved summer treat, has a fascinating connection to the Jewish community. Let’s delve into six intriguing facts about Jews and their relationship with this delectable frozen delight.

Ancient Origins

Surprisingly, references to enjoying cold sweet treats date back to ancient times. In Rome, emperors would send slaves to fetch snow from mountaintops, which would then be flavored and relished as a refreshing snack. Meanwhile, China’s King Tang of Shang employed 94 “ice men” who concocted a chilled recipe using buffalo milk, flour, and camphor.

Interestingly, Jewish cookbook writer Claudia Roden recalls a childhood favorite called dondurma kaimak from her days in a Jewish quarter of Cairo. This rich ice cream made with buffalo’s milk, sahlab (a ground root from an orchid), rose water, and mastic left a lasting impression on her. While Roden couldn’t find an exact match, she encountered a similar chilled custard in Israel, lovingly prepared by a Jewish individual with Turkish roots.

Modern Treats

It was during the Renaissance in Italy that ice cream, as we know it today, came to the fore. For centuries, ice cream was considered an Italian specialty. Italian vendors served it in European cafes and peddled it from custom-made vans. By the mid-1800s, ice cream had become a highly popular dessert.

During this time, when Italians held a monopoly on the ice cream trade, baseless accusations were hurled at British Jews. They were wrongly accused of bringing in Italian immigrant ice cream vendors to corrupt innocent children with this delicious treat.

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In fact, ice cream gained such prominence that it was among the first tastes of America for Jewish immigrants arriving in the United States via Ellis Island. Alongside popular American foods like bananas and sandwiches, ice cream welcomed these newcomers to their new home.

Baskin Robbins, Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s

Some of America’s most iconic ice cream brands were established by Jewish immigrants. Irv Robbins, who was born in Winnipeg in 1917, used the money he received for his bar mitzvah to open the Snowbird Ice Cream parlor in 1945. Irv, having learned the art of ice cream making in his father’s shop during his younger days, quickly became a master of his craft. Even during his service as a lieutenant in the US Navy during World War II, he would make ice cream for his comrades in his spare time.

Snowbird Ice Cream introduced a revolutionary concept: offering customers a staggering selection of 21 different flavors. This move earned them immense popularity. A year later, Irv’s brother-in-law Bert Baskin opened Burton’s Ice Cream Shop in Pasadena, California. Eventually, the two joined forces in 1948, launching Baskin-Robbins and captivating generations with their high-quality ice cream. (Fun fact: In 1994, Baskin-Robbins merged with Dunkin’ Donuts, another brand founded by a Jewish entrepreneur named William Rosenberg in 1950.)

In 1961, a new player entered the scene, tantalizing American consumers with a new standard of high-quality ice cream. Häagen-Dazs, the brainchild of Jewish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus, quickly gained a devoted following. Reuben, who had moved to the US as a child, was already well-versed in the ice and ice-cream-making trade. However, he felt that there was something missing.

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In an inspired move, Reuben invented the fictitious name Häagen-Dazs, which sounded vaguely Danish. When asked about this decision, he humorously explained, “The only country which saved the Jews during World War II was Denmark. So I put together a totally fictitious Danish name and had it registered.” It was essential to Reuben and Rose that Häagen-Dazs be kosher, allowing fellow Jews to enjoy their scrumptious creation.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s, also made their mark on the ice cream industry. In 1978, they established their socially-conscious ice cream company in Burlington, Vermont. Their commitment to using recycled materials and hormone-free milk in their products, along with their delightfully whimsical flavor names like Chunky Monkey and Chubby Hubby, resonated with consumers. Even though Ben and Jerry’s has been part of the multinational corporation Unilever since 2000, they continue to introduce new flavors and maintain their commitment to creative and amusing ice cream experiences. In fact, they even produced a special kosher for Passover flavor in Israel back in 2017, featuring the essence of haroset, a popular dish served during the Passover seder.

Inventing New Trends in Ice Cream

Jewish inventors and chefs have played a notable role in the evolution of ice cream making. In 1973, Steve Herrell opened Steve’s, an ice cream parlor that quickly became a sensation in Davis Square, Massachusetts. Herrell introduced a revolutionary method of creating rich and dense ice cream, adding a creative twist by incorporating crushed candy bars and cookies. This novel concept of “mix-ins” quickly spread across the country, captivating ice cream lovers everywhere.

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Another Israeli company, Solo Gelato, is poised to revolutionize the ice cream industry even further. They have developed a unique machine that uses coffee pod-like containers to create individual servings of delicious ice cream right in the comfort of people’s kitchens. With a repertoire of 24 options, including sugar-free, organic, and even alcoholic variations, Solo Gelato is propelling ice cream into the future.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream

For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, indulging in ice cream may seem like an impossible dream. Enter David Mintz, a visionary who spent years experimenting with non-dairy versions of ice cream in the 1970s. As a lactose-intolerant observant Jew, Mintz recognized the need for non-dairy ice cream within his community. Furthermore, he realized that kosher rules prevented the serving of ice cream after meals containing meat.

Drawing on his father’s experience as a baker and his own knowledge of the food and catering industry, Mintz dedicated nine years to perfecting his recipe. Eventually, he struck gold with a tofu-based composition that offered the same delectable taste and texture as traditional ice cream. Mintz invited family and friends to taste his creation and went on to establish Tofutti in 1981, providing non-dairy (parve in Hebrew) ice cream to the masses.

Today, Tofutti Brands extends beyond non-dairy ice cream, encompassing a range of non-dairy cream cheese, cheese, sour cream, and other delectable alternatives.

Israeli Innovations

Israel stands out as an ice cream powerhouse, with over a quarter of all ice cream consumed in the Middle East and Africa being enjoyed within its borders. Israelis savor an average of 8-10 liters of ice cream per year, second only to ice cream enthusiasts in the United States.

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In Israel, ice cream is so ubiquitous that a common Hebrew saying when encountering someone multiple times is “pa’am shlishit glida”—meaning that on the third meeting, they’ll go out for ice cream together. This expression perfectly encapsulates the irresistibility and popularity of Israeli ice cream.

When it comes to ice cream, the Jewish community has left an indelible mark on its history, innovation, and global appeal. From ancient origins to modern trends, Jewish inventors, entrepreneurs, and chefs continue to enrich our lives with delightful frozen creations that make us smile.

So, the next time you savor a scoop of delicious ice cream, remember the Jewish individuals who helped bring this frozen joy to your taste buds.

Ice Cream is truly a delightful indulgence that transcends cultural boundaries and brings people together in sweet harmony.

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