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Despite our global economy, many regional ice cream styles have stayed stubbornly regional. No one outside of New England calls a milkshake a “frappe.” Ask someone outside of the San Francisco Bay Area what an Its-It is and they might look at you funny. In Massachusetts, “Hoodsies,” and their wooden spoons, were a classic summer treat.
But what is ice cream, as its most basic? American-style ice cream is a base of cream, milk, sugar, and often eggs that is cooked, cooled, and then churned in a frozen container until it partially freezes while air is incorporated, yielding a frozen but creamy treat. The ratio of dairy fat to sugar is crucial to the product’s final texture. Flavorings like vanilla and chocolate are usually added before the ice cream base is churned. Philadelphia-style ice cream does not contain eggs and is usually sweeter. Milk ice is made without cream; French-style ice cream is always made with cream and eggs; Italian gelato is made with more milk than cream and does not always contain eggs.
While ice cream novelties exist in every country in the world, this glossary is focused on American creations and international creations that have found a home in the U.S. (That American history, by the way, is centered firmly on our nation’s second state: When I set forth to create a glossary of American ice cream, I didn’t realize so much of it — Breyers, the Banana Split, Mister Softee, and water ice — originated in Pennsylvania.) Did we miss one of your favorite creations? Do tell us in the comments!
Affogato al caffe: The origins are unclear, but it’s a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of gelato. “Affogato” means “drowned” in Italian.
A la mode: Translated from the French, it means “in the style.” The French might say, “glace á la mode de Anglais,” which means ice cream served in the style of the English. But in the U.S., á la mode means a dessert served with ice cream on top. It’s often pie, but may also be cake, a brownie, or a cookie.
Awful Awful: An ice cream drink popular in Rhode Island and currently sold by Newport Creamery, it’s a blend of flavored syrup, milk, and a frozen-ice-milk blend. It is similar in texture to a frappe, aka a thick milkshake, also from the region.
Balboa Bar: A square or rectangle of vanilla ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate and coated in salty or sweet toppings like crushed nuts and sprinkles. The Beach Bar is a local variation where the ice cream is dipped and rolled in toppings to order.
Banana split: A classic American sundae consisting of a split banana, three scoops of ice cream, and several or all of the following: whipped cream or marshmallow cream, pineapple sauce, cherry sauce, fudge sauce, caramel sauce, peanuts, and at least one cherry. The dessert was invented in 1904 at a drugstore in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Baskin-Robbins: The world’s largest chain of ice cream shops was founded in 1945 by Burt Baskin and his brother-in-law Irv Robbins in Glendale, California. It is known for its 31 Flavors slogan. Today the chain operates over 7,600 shops in nearly 50 countries and is operated by Dunkin’ brands.
Ben & Jerry’s: Childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded their namesake ice cream company in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont. Known for its offbeat and occasionally political flavors, it is now owned and operated by Unilever — though Cohen and Greenfield still retain some creative control.
Bomb/Bombe: Ice cream molded into a single-serving sized spherical or half spherical shape. Usually it is covered with a glaze and served as a plated dessert.
Bomb Pop: An ice pop which looks roughly like a rocket on a stick. The classic flavor and color combination is cherry (red), lime (white), and blue raspberry (blue), with each flavor getting a third of the total pop. Bomb Pops were invented in 1955 by James S. Merritt and D.S. Abernethy in Kansas City, Missouri.
Breyers: An ice cream brand founded in Philadelphia in 1866 by William A. Breyer, who first sold his ice cream out of his home, and later via horse and wagon on the streets. Unilever bought the business from Kraft Foods in 1993.
Cabinet: A type of thick milkshake flavored with coffee popularized in Rhode Island.
Candy, Chocolate, or Magic shell: A dip for ice cream cones. The base flavor is mixed with coconut oil or melted butter so that when it comes into contact with ice cream, it freezes or hardens instantly, forming a crunchy candy-like coating around the ice cream. Often it’s made with chocolate, but also comes in strawberry and other flavors. Magic Shell is the brand name used by Smucker’s.
Carvel: An ice cream company founded by Tom Carvel on an ice cream truck in 1929, today, the company operates more than 400 franchise locations throughout the U.S. It’s especially known for its ice cream cakes, which contain a layer of crunchies, or crisp cookie bits coated in candy shell. Carvel also sells soft serve ice cream, ice cream bars, and ice cream sandwiches.
Choco Taco: An ice cream novelty shaped to look like a taco, with a round chocolate waffle-cone “tortilla” shell and fudge rippled ice cream filling. It was invented in Philadelphia in the 1980s, and usually topped with peanuts and coated in milk chocolate.
Cold Stone Creamery: A brand founded in 1988 in Tempe, Arizona by Susan and Donald Sutherland, who wanted to create a type of ice cream that was “neither hard-packed nor soft-serve.” At Cold Stone, ice cream “base flavors” like cake batter, mint, and strawberry are scooped out onto a cold marble surface. Using paddles and scoops, staffers add mix-ins like gummy bears, brownies, fresh fruit, sprinkles, or pieces of cake, cookies, or candy. More than 1,500 locations are in operation in 27 countries.
Concrete: First popularized in the 1950s, it’s a type of milkshake — traditionally made using frozen custard instead of lower fat ice cream — so thick the server could hand it to the customer upside down and it would not drip out. Often mix-ins like slices of pie or candy are blended in.
Cone: A cookie-like wafer shaped into a cone (sometimes the same dough or cookie is molded into a cup or another shape). Cones enable ice cream eaters to consume the treat out of hand and without a spoon. According to several sources, the first ice cream cone was created by Ernest Hamwi for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
Traditionally, it’s made from a cookie dough or batter which is pressed into a round, waffle-patterned sheet that is then rolled into a cone while warm. Today, there are several different styles, including waffle cones, made from a batter; sugar cones, made from a sweet dough; and wafer cones, made from a starch mixture that is molded and baked into crispy but light cone shapes. Double cones have two openings at the top of the cone to allow for two scoops of ice cream to be placed side-by-side. (The single cone is also known as a “poke” in Northern Ireland and Scotland.)
Creamsicle: Also called a 50-50 bar, it’s a core of vanilla ice cream on a stick covered in a fruit-flavored ice. The most popular flavor is orange. The novelty is an evolution of the popsicle. See also: Fudgsicle.
Cup: When it’s not served in a cone, ice cream is served in a paper, stainless steel, glass, or ceramic cup.
Dairy Queen: Founded in Joliet, Illinois in 1940, the franchised Dairy Queen (or DQ) chain is known for its soft-serve ice cream, Blizzards (a milkshake with candy or cookie mix-ins), and various flavors of magic or candy shells. The company operates more than 6,700 locations across the world, and has several different concepts, many of which serve savory fast food in addition to the ice cream treats.
Dippin’ Dots: A treat billed as the “ice cream of the future” when it was invented by Curt Jones, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate, in 1987. The process involves flash freezing an ice cream base using liquid nitrogen. The process results in small pearls of ice cream that melt on the tongue. Because it must be stored at -40F, the product is not available commercially and is instead sold by franchisees.
Drumstick: A sugar cone filled with vanilla ice cream, dipped in nuts and packaged in a wrapper — with many flavor variations — the ice cream drumstick was originally invented in 1928 by I.C. Parker of the Drumstick Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The brand name “Drumstick” is owned by Nestle. Drumsticks are now produced and sold by Nestle.
Dreyer’s: Often mistaken for Breyers, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Holdings, Inc., was founded by Joseph Edy and William Dreyer in 1928 as Edy’s Grand Ice Cream of Oakland, California. The partners split in 1947; in 1953, Dreyer renamed the company. Dreyer’s uses a process called low-temperature extrusion, which produces a creamy ice cream but with less fat. Dreyer’s parent company Nestle operates the two largest ice cream plants in the United States.
Eskimo Pie: A vanilla ice cream bar covered in chocolate. It was invented in 1919 in Iowa but perfected by the Burt family of Youngstown, Ohio in 1920 when they added a handy stick to the bar. That allowed ice cream fans to eat it without getting a mess on their hands, and the creation was renamed a Good Humor Bar. The Klondike Bar is the brand name of the Eskimo pie.
Falude: A Persian frozen dessert consisting of a sweet, often rose water-flavored syrup which is frozen and mixed with softened vermicelli noodles. Almonds or pistachios may also be added or used as toppings. The dessert is said to have originated long ago in the city of Shiraz.
Float: The ice cream float — also known as a coke float, soda float, root beer float, or, in Australia and New Zealand, a “spider” — was invented by Robert McCay Green in Philadelphia, PA, in 1874. Some sources say he ran out of ice for his drinks and opted to use vanilla ice cream instead. According to Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains, Green was making cream sodas when he ran out of cream. He dashed to a nearby ice cream shop and filled his pitchers with ice cream, planning to use it in the drinks after it melted But with demand from customers rising he started making the drinks with scoops of frozen ice cream. Floats were popular at soda fountains and during Prohibition; they remain on menus at ice cream shops throughout the U.S.
Frappe: In New England, the name of a very thick milkshake. It is pronounced “frap,” and rhymes with “cap.” In some places it is called a “Velvet”.
Free cone day: A popular promotion among ice cream shops, free cone day started at Ben & Jerry’s in 1979, one year after the brand debuted; it has since been adopted by other ice cream purveyors, including Häagen-Dazs.
Frozen banana: A whole, peeled banana impaled upon a stick lengthwise, frozen, and then dipped in chocolate. Often it is also sprinkled with salty toppings like peanuts. Like the Balboa Bar, it originated on Balboa island off the coast of Newport Beach in Southern California. It was made famous by the cult show Arrested Development.
Frozen custard: This term is often used interchangeably with ice cream, but it refers to ice cream made with cream and eggs.
Frozen yogurt: Also known as fro-yo, the frozen treat is usually lower in fat than traditional ice cream and has a tart flavor. It is made by freezing yogurt blended into an ice cream base with enough sugar to prevent it from turning icy. Frozen yogurt first gained popularity in the 1970s, though it was criticized as being too sour. Eventually companies like TCBY created formulas that were lighter and sweeter in flavor. Frozen yogurt fell out of favor in the early 2000s, but experienced a resurgence thanks to companies like Pinkberry and 16 Handles.
Fudge pop/stick: Commonly known as a Fudgsicle, which is a registered trademark of Unilever, it is a chocolate pudding-based ice pop. See also: Fudgsicle, Creamsicle.
Gelato: Italian-style ice cream, which is milk-based rather than cream-based, and is usually described as lighter in flavor but somewhat sweeter.
Good Humor: One of the most prolific makers of ice cream novelties, the company created Good Humor Bars; by the 1960s it produced over 85 different variations. Today, the company owns the rights to and manufactures King Cones, ice cream sandwiches, dessert bars, Oreo-flavored novelties, among others.
Good Humor Bar: An Eskimo Pie on a stick.
Grape-Nuts: A breakfast cereal developed in 1897 made from wheat and barley. There are neither grapes nor nuts in it, though it does have a nutty flavor. In 1919, when a Canadian ice cream maker ran out of fruit, she decided to mix in some breakfast cereal. The deep, almost browned butter flavor of the cereal pairs very well with vanilla ice cream, and that combination, when mixed together, has become a popular flavor in New England, Jamaica, and parts of Canada.
Häagen-Dazs: An ice cream brand created in 1961 by Reuben and Rose Mattus in NYC. Originally, the company only made vanilla, chocolate, and coffee-flavored ice cream. Today, it is licensed to Nestle in the USA and Canada, and is one of the few commercial brands to not use stabilizers or many additives. The company operates scoop shops throughout the U.S. and is widely distributed at grocery and convenience stores.
Hoodsie: Since 1947 Massachusetts-based Hood, a dairy company, has made and distributed these small, pre-packaged cups of ice cream. One side of the cup is filled with vanilla ice cream while the other is filled with chocolate. For years the cups came with small wooden spoons but now only large packages for commercial sale contain the spoons.
Ice cream cake: Ice cream shaped into a cake and frosted, or ice cream layered between layers of cake.
Ice cream roll: A cake roll filled with ice cream and served sliced so as to show the internal spiral. The cake can be a sponge cake or chiffon, which are soft, airy, and flexible when cool. This phrase may also refer to Thai-style ice cream, which is made when ice cream base is poured onto a very cold surface, partially flash-frozen and then curled into rolls and served.
Ice cream sandwich: Ice cream, sandwiched between two cookies. The traditional style is vanilla ice cream between two rectangular chocolate wafers.
ICEE: A frozen, carbonated drink in soda or fruit juice flavors. Icee’s founder, Omar Knedlik, is credited with invented the frozen drink machine in the late 1950s. (See also: Slurpee)
Ice pop: The generic term for a popsicle, a juice, pudding, or sweetened water-based frozen treat on a stick. It can also refer to a water-based iced frozen snack packaged in a plastic sheath.
Italian ice: Similar in texture to a slushie or Slurpee, it is partially frozen ice. It was popularized in the U.S. by Italian immigrants who were likely making a quick version of granita. It is also known as water ice, or sometimes, “Philly water ice.”
It’s It: An ice cream sandwich made from two soft oatmeal cookies and vanilla ice cream that is then dipped in chocolate. The treat hails from San Francisco, where it is said to have originated in SF theme part Playland-at-the-Beach in 1928.
Jimmies: Chocolate-flavored sprinkles, aka the colorful bits of sugar used for decoration, the word’s allegedly racist origins are a matter of dispute. See also: sprinkles.
Kakigōri: Japanese dish of shaved ice topped with sauces, flavorings, fruit or sweetened condensed milk.
King Cone: A large drumstick manufactured by Good Humor. Nestle’s competing product is the Drumstick, a smaller packaged ice cream cone.
Kulfi: A popsicle popular in India made from a milk base which is flavored with nuts or spices.
Milk ice: Popularized during the World Wars, it’s ice cream made only with milk and sugar. The texture is icy due to the lack of fat in the milk.
Milkshake: Ice cream blended with milk.
Mister Softee: A franchised business of ice cream trucks that serve soft-serve ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, dipped cones, and ice cream novelties. The Mister Softee brand was founded by the Conway family in 1956; on its first day in business, it charged its customers in West Philadelphia just 10 cents per cone.
Neapolitan: An ice cream flavor combination of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. It was popularized in the late 19th century by Neapolitan immigrants in the U.S. and today is commonly found in the grocery store aisle.
Paddle: The partner to an ice cream scoop, it is usually an aluminum tool used to spread or curl ice cream. It can also be used to fold candy, nuts, or other flavorings into an ice cream base.
Paletas: Fruit-flavored ice pops made with whole and blended fruit. Popular in Latin America and Latin American neighborhoods in the U.S.
Pingsu/Pingsoo: A Korean dish of shaved ice topped with sauces, flavorings, fruit or sweetened condensed milk.
Pinkberry: A franchised chain of frozen yogurt shops founded in 2005 and based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Popsicle: The brand name for an ice pop, trademarked by inventor Frank Epperson in 1923. Legally, “Popsicle” refers to only the ice pops made by the Unilever corporation.
Semifreddo: Literally translated as “semi-frozen,” it is an Italian dessert made by freezing a mousse-like sweetened and flavored dairy mixture.
Shave ice: Sometimes called Hawaiian shave ice, it is made when a block of ice is shaved by a special ice shaver. This shaved ice is piled into a cup and then topped with flavored syrups.
Sherbert/Sherbet: Fruit-flavored milk ice, no matter how it’s spelled.
Slurpee: A slushie made by 7-Eleven; the convenience store chain licensed the ICEE machine technology in 1965, and debuted its branded version of the slushie one year later.
Slushie/Slush/Slushy: Named after snow of the same watery texture, it’s like a snow cone but can be sipped through a straw.
Snow cone: Similar to shave ice, it’s made with a softer, more watery base atop which flavored syrups are dripped. The texture is softer because the product is served at a warmer temperature, so it is more water and less ice.
Soft-serve: Ice cream with a lower fat content that is extruded out of a special machine which injects a certain amount of air into the churned mixture. That injection makes it softer and lighter than traditional ice cream.
Sorbet: Sorbet or sorbetto comes from the Arabic word scharbat. It is a smooth, sweet, fruit-flavored frozen ice.
Sprinkles: Colorful bits of candy or sugar used for decoration.
Spumoni: Molded Italian ice cream with different layers, colors, flavors, and sometimes fruit bits, nuts, or syrups swirled in. It is related to the classic Neapolitan combination; layering ice cream flavors was common in Naples.
Sundae: A combination of ice cream, sauce, and toppings or bases like sauce, brownie, cookies, cake, or fruit.
Teaberry: Teaberries are the fruit of the wintergreen plant. Bright pink, they have a mild minty flavor, and because the plant grows wild in the Eastern U.S., it was used to flavor gum. It’s also a commonly found ice cream flavor in Pennsylvania.
Viennetta: A packaged and mass-produced ice cream cake, in the shape of a loaf, manufactured by Unilever that was popular in the 1990s. Its original flavor was a vanilla ice cream base with layers of chocolate. It is no longer available in the U.S., but is still available in Australia.
Daniela Galarza is Eater’s news editor. Dina Avila is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon.