The Delicious History of Ice Cream

Ice cream, as we currently know it, has been around since the mid-17th century. It is thought to have been created in Italy, brought to France, and subsequently spread throughout the world. However, iced treats made from flavored ices can actually be traced back for over 3000 years to China and the ancient Roman Empire.  It is documented that Emperor Nero enjoyed an iced treat similar to that found in China. While the origins of ice cream may have their roots in China, Nero is often credited for making the dessert desirable. He is said to have sent his slaves on long journey to gather snow in the mountains to bring back and make these delicious treats. The treat, much like a sorbet, was made from ice, honey and natural berry flavors.

The Start of Something Big

In the beginning, the Chinese developed a method of mixing snow and ice carefully with various flavors and honey to create a delicious dessert. They then established a way to store the treat by packing it in ice and salt. It is believed that the adventurer Marco Polo brought the recipe for this iced treat back to Italy when he returned from his travels. While there are no documented facts proving this, the legend is quite popular.

After being introduced in Italy, the icy delicacy began to evolve. The sorbet styled treat was a favorite among the rich and elite. Catherine Medici, of the famous Medici family is said to have taken the dessert with her to the French court when she married into the French royal family.

Once in France, the dessert became widely popular. Recipes began to change and a new style of frozen treat emerged.  Soon, an iced cream made with milk and sugar, was introduced. The French even took the process one step further to add eggs and vanilla bean to the dessert, creating what we all know now as French vanilla ice cream.

Ice Cream Spreads to the States

Ice cream quickly spread in popularity throughout Europe and as early as the 1750’s recipes began showing up in popular pamphlets and books. Everyone who was anyone soon knew how to make and serve ice cream. The craze crossed the ocean and ice cream finally hit the American shores.  Here, once again, the ice cream began to change in style. 

As refrigeration became more accessible through the use of ice houses and eventually the common refrigerator and freezer, ice cream soared in demand. By the early 1800’s official ice cream manufacturers had established in the United States. At the same time, Dolly Madison created quite a stir by serving ice cream at the second inaugural ball.

As the popularity of ice cream continued to grow, the advent of novelty ice cream styles did as well. Ice cream sandwiches, popsicles and the ever-important Neapolitan brand became popular. The ability to create a 3 flavor ice cream without mixing it together became all the rage of its time.

The Invention of the Ice Cream Cone

There are two tales that revolve around the creation of the ice cream cone. In one account, it is said that an ice cream vendor on Wall Street was quite tired of losing his glass dishes to his customers or having them broken, so he created a waffle like cone with a flat bottom to hold the ice cream. He did it as a way to save money, but in fact created a new food product. He patented the idea in 1903.

In another account, the cone styled holder is said to have come from the St. Louis World’s Fair of the same year. It is said that an ice cream vendor was suddenly caught off guard by the amount of people purchasing ice cream and soon ran out of dishes. As a quick thinker, he started buying waffles from the vendor next door to serve the ice cream in. The cone shape was perfect to hold in the hands and soon became the requested way to get the ice cream scoops.

“Cookies and Cream” Makes a Splash

One of the more recent events in ice cream history was the advent of the cookies and cream flavor. While ice cream flavors are always hit or miss, the cookies and cream brand, when introduced, was such a hit that production was hard to manage. It went straight to the top and has remained in the top 10 favorite flavors of all time, ranking up there with the timeless classics of vanilla and chocolate. The only other flavor to do this was several years later when chocolate chip cookie dough was introduced.