The History of Ice Cream

The History of Ice Cream

by Rosie Jenkinson

The history of ice cream. Surely that’s an easy and interesting topic for a blog post: easy because all it takes is a little bit of googling, a little bit of reading around and a little bit of putting stuff together; and interesting because food history always has a good back story.

Well, while researching ‘the history of ice cream’ I’ve stumbled on so many myths that slightly touch on reality but then stumble away into fiction. Who knew the history of ice cream was as messy as trying to lick a melting 99 on a hot summer’s day?

What can be gathered is that ice cream’s origins began in China. Some say that from as early as 3000 BC, the Chinese would gather ice from the mountains which would then be flavoured (naturally, of course!) and eaten as a luxurious treat. However, this ‘ice cream’ was merely flavoured ice, not the delicious rich, creamy, smooth ice cream we have today!

The ice cream we are all familiar with and love today was first invented in Italy in the 17th Century. In earlier centuries, ice would be collected from ponds, streams and lakes in the winter and stored in ice houses, sometimes being kept cool by compressing straw and hay on top of it, until the wealthy used it to cool their produce in the summer. It was a labour-intensive process and was totally dependent on nature – unlike today where we can just pop some ice cube trays filled with water into our freezer! The ice would then be used to cool and chill a pot of cream or other milky dessert.

As new techniques and processes were developed to store ice (like mixing it with salt to control its temperature, transporting ice from other countries, having churning machines filled with ice) people across Europe and America began to be creative and experiment with ice cream making; like using milk, custard and cream to create delicious cold desserts.

The ice cream boom happened in the 20th century when it became a mass market product that was available to not just the wealthy and rich. With electricity and refrigeration being invented, ice cream could be stored and transported much easier. Recipes for ice cream, which used to be a guarded treasure, now started to blossom.

If you speed up to the present day: we take ice cream for granted. Every supermarket/convenience store has a freezer section with lots of choices of flavours and brands. If we fancy some ice cream all we have to do is open our freezer door. If we want it in summer it’s no problem. It’s fascinating the journey ice cream has been on, and how it has developed over time as technology has developed. Next time I open my freezer door and tuck into a hearty bowl of Neapolitan ice cream, I’ll be glad that this is now a luxury I can always have!

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