What Is the History of Ice Cream?

Dan Cavallari

The history of ice cream is not always a clear one, especially when trying to discover the origins of the tasty dessert. The ancient Persians made a dish that was similar to ice cream, using snow and sweet flavorings such as rosewater to make a cool dessert in hotter months. As centuries passed, various cultures began developing similar treats, and some believe various Arab cultures were the first to use dairy products such as milk or cream to make the dish. From there, the history of ice cream is a bit of a mystery, as several cultures throughout the world seemed to develop similar treats.

Some believe Arab cultures were the first to use milk or cream to make ice cream.
Some believe Arab cultures were the first to use milk or cream to make ice cream.

Some historians have contended that the first culture to have the means to make and preserve ice cream was the Chinese, though variations of the dessert did exist prior to this. The Roman Emperor Nero is rumored to have sent slaves into the mountains to collect snow in order to make a treat similar to ice cream, though dairy products were not used in this dish. The history of ice cream in terms of the dairy-based desert may have continued with the expeditions of Marco Polo, who was possibly been exposed to the dish while in China himself. The process of making the dish was considered a royal secret, and it wasn't until Marco Polo visited that the recipe reached European countries.

Some believe that the Medici family of Italy had a role in the spread of frozen galato.
Some believe that the Medici family of Italy had a role in the spread of frozen galato.

An Italian Duchess named Catherine de' Medici continued the history of ice cream by bringing it to France when she married the duc d'Orleans. Her chefs were said to have brought recipes to France to make the frozen dessert, and ice cream quickly became popular among royalty. Some historians dispute this story, however, as there is little solid evidence that Catherine took her own chefs to France, or that the frozen treat was present during that era in France.

An ice cream cone.
An ice cream cone.

The recipe for the dessert eventually reached England, and it spread quickly from there. As the history of ice cream progressed, the methods by which it could be made and preserved improved drastically as well. During the 19th century, the idea of serving ice cream in a cone was borne, but it did not become common practice until the 1904 World's Fair, when an ice cream vendor ran out of cups in which to serve the treat. A waffle maker in the booth next door then supplied his product to the ice cream vendor, and together the treat was served, thereby becoming perhaps the most popular manner in which to eat ice cream.

Soft serve ice cream.
Soft serve ice cream.
Marco Polo is credited with introducing ice cream to Europe.
Marco Polo is credited with introducing ice cream to Europe.

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