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Who invented ice cream?

Initially made of snow, milk and honey, ice cream has since undergone an unprecedented evolution. A thrilling story across the world and through time.

A pink ice cream
Credit: gresei-Getty Images

If today you can find it on every street corner and on every menu, ice cream has not always been so accessible. In its early days, it was made from snow from the mountains, an ingredient not so easy to obtain.


Before the ice cream, the sorbet

As always with history, it is not easy to date exactly the invention of the first ice cream. Some claim that it was the Chinese who were the first to prepare sorbets. For this, they would have used barrels in which they mixed donkey/mare/goat's milk with honey, snow and saltpeter (to keep the preparation frozen). Historians estimate the creation of ice between 3000 and 200 BC, so a big margin.


Others prefer to rely on written sources. And precisely, the first historical mention of a recipe dates from 400 BC, among the Persians. They imagined a frozen dessert, the Faloudeh. This Iranian dessert consisted of soaking rice vermicelli in ice water and adding rose water, lemon juice, saffron and fruits to flavor it.


A question still arises: where did the snow come from?

  • The Arabs made their chorbets (or sherbet) by transporting snow from the mountains on camels. It was then stored in buildings designed to keep it cool.

  • Nero, a Roman emperor, demanded that blocks of ice and packed snow be extracted from Mount Etna and Vesuvius. Everything was then delivered by boat, kept in wells, and then served to the emperor's guests with honey and crushed fruit.

  • As for regions without mountains, ice was taken in winter from lakes and stored in holes in the ground.


From sorbet to ice cream

In the year 1292, Marco Polo, returning from his trip to China, brought back the technique of the ice cream maker and sorbet consisting of mixing water and saltpetre< /strong>. The technique was not put into practice until 1530 by Sicilian, the gelato was born.


And, no, contrary to what we read everywhere, it was not Catherine de Medici who would have distributed the recipe for sorbet in Europe. No source confirms this legend.


A little reminder about the difference between sorbet, gelato and ice cream:

  • Sherbet is a mixture of water, sugars and fruit (and sometimes alcohol). It does not contain any fat.

  • Ice cream contains milk, cream or eggs, sugar and fruit flavorings.

  • Ice cream is made from egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar and flavorings. It contains at least 5% milk fat, often fresh cream.

So who invented ice cream? It is said that it was Gérard Tirsain, a French cook in the service of King Charles I of England, who took the initiative to add milk and cream to his ice cream in 1644.


Then, in 1689, the Sicilian Francesco Procopio del Coltelli opened his first café, Procope, in Paris, where he served more than 80 different sorbets and ice creams. The nobles rush there, competitors multiply, and consumption increases, helped by the Revolution which democratizes this luxury product.



Ice-cream in United-States

While Europe is already crazy about ice cream, it’s the United States’ turn to hear about it. It is in particular Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, who participates in its dissemination. Falling in love with the dessert when he came to France, he obtained a copy of the recipe to be able to make it at home.

A guide to the first cooler
The first manual ice cream maker was invented by Yorker Nancy M. Johnson.

Then, everything follows quickly:

  • Nancy M. Johnson patented a hand-cranked ice cream maker in 1843 which greatly reduced production time,

  • The first ice cream factory opened in Baltimore in 1851

  • In 1860, Frenchman Charles Tellier created the first refrigerating machine,

  • Pasteurization was discovered in 1865,

  • Motorized and refrigerated transport is transforming the sector,

  • The ice cream cone was popularized at the 1904 World's Fair in Saint-Louis (Missouri),

  • The first ice cream factory opened in 1924.

A photograph of an ice cream vendor
An ice cream seller

I'll spare you all the ice cream dates, just remember this: the recipe for ice cream (including sorbet and ice cream) is very old and has seen an incredible acceleration , especially from the 19th century!


I hope you enjoy this story! Do you know the one of the carrot cake, the cake that makes you see in the night ?

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