Who Invented Ice Cream?

Is there a more universally beloved treat than ice cream? I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone that ever said, straight up “I don’t like ice cream.” Whether it’s plain vanilla, a fancy wacky flavor, vegan, etc, there’s a type of ice cream out there for everyone. Everyone ranging from little, snotty-nosed toddlers to the president of the United States love ice cream. But what’s ice cream’s story anyway? Who invented ice cream? When was ice cream invented? Where was ice cream invented? How was ice cream invented? Let’s get the scoop on the invention of ice cream.

Who invented ice cream?

You may have heard the legend that ice cream was invented in ancient China then brought to Italy by Marco Polo, then arrived in France via Catharine de Medici, where it was tasted by Thomas Jefferson who brought it to the U.S. Well, that legend is just a legend. It’s not the real history. Who invented ice cream, really? No one knows. The answer was lost to the sands of time because ice cream is really, really old. 

When was ice cream invented? 

Most likely, ice cream sprang up in 4,000 BCE. Ancient Greecians and Romans poured honey over fresh snow for a sweet snack. The Tang dynasty in China served an icy dessert made with water buffalo milk, which may be the first frozen milk concoction. But going so far back in history with different versions of ice cream popping up all over the world makes it impossible to find a singular inventor.

Where was ice cream invented?

There were different types of ice cream created all over the ancient world. But as we travel towards modern times in our history books and more written records are kept, we can pin down some specific places and recipes for dishes that resemble modern ice cream. Ice cream-like sherbets were popular in the Medieval Islamic world. Those made their way to Italy in the 1600s where descriptions of “water ice” desserts cropped up around 1620. These desserts made their way from Italy to the banquet halls of Paris, Florence, Naples, and Spain. In 1672, the word “ice cream” popped up when an Englishman named Elias Ashmole wrote that “one plate of ice cream” was served the previous year to King Charles II. In the 1700s, ice cream showed up in America. George Washington had a mechanical ice cream maker Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson had a recipe for French-style vanilla ice cream. So, yes, Thomas Jefferson does enter into the history of ice cream. 

How was ice cream invented?

Unfortunately, there’s no funny story about how someone once fell into a pile of snow carrying a bucket of chocolate and, ta-da, ice cream was invented. All we can say for sure is that there was one big discovery that made possible the invention of ice cream as we know it today. The Arab world learned in the 13th century that ice mixed with salt created an exothermic chemical reaction that lowered a liquid’s freezing point, causing the surrounding temperature to drop. This allowed ice crystals to form in various liquids, such as milk or cream, which could be stirred to keep large crystals from forming. Tiny ice crystals form in the liquid and you get a scoopable frozen treat. This process kick-started the invention of ice cream and a worldwide obsession. 

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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