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The Story of Ice Cream

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An idea with international contributions

Ice cream is one of those products that show how ideas from all over the world mix to make a superb end result. People in India, China, Europe, and the Americas all contributed to ice cream’s modern development.

The Persians and the ancient Greeks mixed snow and ice, brought down from the mountains, with honey to enjoy on hot days. It is said that Alexander the Great enjoyed this refreshing desert and that the ancient Greek doctor, Hippocrates, criticized these chilled dishes for causing stomach aches.

The Mongols who invaded parts of the Middle East and Europe took this ice sherbet to China and India. In India, the Mughal emperors had a series of horsemen who galloped from the Hindu Kush to Delhi, bringing ice. The ice was then mixed with fruit and made into an ancient Kulfi. Marco Polo, when he returned to Italy from China, brought his own recipe for ice sherbet. 

Slowly becoming what we know it to be

Modern ice cream is frozen, and the technology for freezing something was first recorded in India. The Panchatantra talks of adding salt to the water so as to lower the melting point of ice. This was not known in Europe till the 16th century.

In the 17th century, the French started experimenting with ice cream. This became so popular that in 1768 a book was published that only talked about recipes for ice cream.

The first advertisement for ice cream anywhere in the world is said to have been in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1777. Ice cream maker Philip Lenzi advertised that ice cream was available “almost every day.” 

The USA’s first President, George Washington, is recorded as having spent approximately USD 200 (USD 5,000 in today’s money) in the summer of 1790 on ice cream. This was a huge amount of money in those days, but apparently, he shared this with his visitors.

Modern Ice Cream

Modern ice cream only became possible with the invention of electricity in America and then refrigeration. Ice cream is now usually made from a combination of water, ice, milk fat, milk protein, and sugar. In the USA, the Food and Drug Agency defines ice cream as a frozen product with 6 to 10% milk and non-fat milk solids.

While India is one of the largest producers of ice cream globally, it does not consume that much on a per capita basis. The USA shows the highest per capita consumption at 23 liters per person each per year, followed in the No. 2 position, by New Zealand, where consumption is at 20 liters per person per year. In India this is 0.4 liters per person per year.

Italians claim their ice cream tastes the best. In Italy, ice cream is known as gelato and is usually hand-made. Italian ice cream also often contains eggs and other flavorings and less than the usual 10% of fat in other countries’ ice cream. As a result, the Italians shout, “Eat gelato like there’s no tomorrow!”

Ice cream brings joy and happiness. It signifies friendship and laughter. Con Kardong, who came fourth in the men’s marathon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was nevertheless always a happy person. He went on to write many books, and on his favorite dessert, ice cream, he said, “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.”

Happy ice creaming!

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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