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The Delectable History of Ice Cream

National Ice Cream Day is July 17th, but we won’t tell anyone if you celebrate a little early!

Ice cream is widely popular for a reason. It’s simply one of the best parts of the human experience. It’s sweet, decadent, and a fantastic treat for a hot summer day.

Are you looking for ways to celebrate ice cream this summer? Did you know that people have been enjoying sweet, frozen concoctions for thousands of years? 

Learn more about the sweet history of ice cream!

The History of Ice Cream

The origins of ice cream are shrouded in mystery and legend. It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when, where, or how ice cream was first enjoyed, but there are a few likely contributors to and ancestors of this creamy treat. 

Where Was Ice Cream Invented?

As early as 3000 B.C.E., we have records of Chinese people enjoying ice desserts. However, ice cream would have looked different then than it does for us today.

People hadn’t invented methods for freezing food in ancient times, but servants brought snow and ice down from mountaintops for the wealthy. As early as 200 B.C.E., It is supposed that Alexander the Great and other well-known Romans enjoyed treats like snow flavored with honey and juice. 

Ancient Egyptians and other dessert cultures created ice by wrapping clay pots with wet cloths. The evaporation would pull heat from the pot, encouraging its contents to stay cool. In some Middle Eastern desserts, freezing nighttime temperatures could form ice in shallow water dishes

Persians had created a frozen dessert they called “sherbat,” a distant relative of, you guessed it, sherbet. Unlike previous ice desserts, sherbat had sugar cane. Ice cream dessert, as we might recognize it today, is generally credited to modern-day Italy. 

Who Invented Ice Cream?

Ice cream history is surprisingly long and complicated. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who “invented” ice cream. Many cultures developed their own versions of ice cream throughout history. 

The age of exploration is when ice cream first took off as a dessert trend. Marco Polo, a famous Venetian explorer, learned about Persian recipes for sherbat. He brought these recipes home to Italy and shared the dessert with royalty there. 

The French and English upper classes adopted this food from Italian elites, adding dairy and cream to the recipes. The age of exploration also introduced popular flavors like chocolate and vanilla, which come from South America. Shortly after the colonization of North America, Europeans brought ice cream overseas.  

The Father of Ice Cream

Ice cream, referred to then as “cream ice,” generally remained a delicacy for the wealthy until the mid-1800s. Augustus Jackson, a presidential chef and free black man, is often credited as the “father of ice cream” in America. He created the first well-known method for producing large quantities of ice cream. 

By adding salt to the ice, Jackson effectively lowered its temperature enough to freeze sugar and cream. After working as a chef at the White House, Jackson opened his own confectionery, popularizing the dessert across the city of Philadelphia. 

The First Ice Cream Shops 

America’s oldest ice cream company is Bassett’s Ice Cream. Bassett’s, founded in 1861, originally used a mule to power the ice cream churn! 

Ice cream became widely available to the public in the United States in the early 1900s. As a reaction to the prohibition movement, soda shops, and ice cream trucks opened up across the country to satisfy peoples’ desire to continue socializing in public. Soda shops served sodas, ice creams, and ice cream floats to patrons instead of alcohol. 

Even after the end of prohibition, many of these soda shops stayed in business, serving ice cream to sweet-toothed customers. From the 1940s to the 1970s, ice cream remained a widely produced and famous food. 

Ice Cream Today

Ice cream is a 13.1 billion dollar industry in the U.S. today! Most ice cream manufacturers have been in business for over 50 years, although products are more often shipped to grocery stores than to private ice cream shops or trucks. Ice cream quickly became a staple dessert for American birthdays, summer holidays, and vacations!

People today may assume ice cream trucks are a thing of the past, but this industry is alive and well! In many cities, you can still find the ice cream truck businesses operating near parks and neighborhoods. You can even acquire your own ice cream truck rental for special occasions!

More Cool Ice Cream Facts

Do you have a sweet tooth and a wisdom tooth? Here are more fun facts you may not know about ice cream!

  • Chocolate is America’s most popular ice cream flavor 
  • Chocolate-flavored ice cream appeared before vanilla
  • The average American consumes over 12lbs of ice cream annually
  • Ben & Bill’s in Maine serves a butter ice cream with lobster chunks
  • One ice cream scoop is about 50 licks
  • Le Mars, Iowa, is the ice cream capital of the world
  • 90% of Americans have ice cream in their freezers right now

Worldwide Delight

From its humble beginnings as a frozen water dish, the history of ice cream is endlessly fascinating and inspiring. Ice cream today is descended from Chinese and Egyptian icemaking, Persian sherbat recipes, French and English dairy, and South American flavorings. You could say that ice cream was created by the whole world and for the whole world!

Did you enjoy learning about the rich and collaborative history of ice cream? Craving more sweet knowledge? Grab the scoop from other food & beverage articles!