Ice cream and gelato have been around for much longer than you might imagine. Long before we had freezers, people used snow and ice to create their frozen desserts. But what did ice cream really look like back in the very beginning? To find that out, we’ll have to look back as far as ancient China.
Where Did the First Ice Cream Come From?
To the best of our knowledge, the very first “ice cream” was created by the Tang Dynasty, somewhere between 618 and 907 AD. It was made of various types of milk that were cooked with flour and frozen in metal tubes, along with camphor to add flavour. Other variations included overcooked rice mixed with milk and spices.
However, there are also indications that Egyptian pharaohs would serve shaved ice to their guests and some archaeologists believe they found evidence of gelato making in the ruins of Pompeii. That’s a pretty bizarre find for the area, but it shows just how appealing frozen treats really are.
Yet another commonly touted origin is Marco Polo bringing ice cream back after traveling to the Far East. This particular myth has been mostly refuted, but it still makes a nice story.
No one knows for certain where the idea of freezing delicious food to make it even better originated, but we do know that there were a few different cultures that attempted it long before refrigeration was a thing.
The Growing Love of Ice Cream
Fruit was the most common form of sweetness back in the medieval times, along with honey. Arab states came up with freezing fruit drinks to make an icy refreshment they called sharabt. They frequently used cherries, quince, or even pomegranate to flavour what was essentially the first version of a sherbet.
In the late 1600’s, Nicolas Audiger, a confectioner in France, wrote a recipe book that included fromage recipes. Although it sounds like cheese, this was actually ice that used fruit flavourings. He included a recipe that was made from cream, orange flower water, and sugar. He also introduced the concept of mixing the ice mixture as it froze, to make it fluffier. The idea of adding air to the ice cream as it froze made a whole new type of dessert.
Ice cream probably arrived in America around the 1700’s, long after it had become popular in Europe. It was a great dessert to make and there were cookbooks with recipes for ices and creams that were created in specially shaped moulds. New York was home to the very first ice cream parlour in 1790.
American presidents were mad over ice cream and many of them made it even more common to have as a dessert. George Washington spent ridiculous amounts of money to eat ice cream, while Thomas Jefferson set up multiple ice houses to hold his favourite dessert. Abraham Lincoln held strawberry parties where ice cream was served up with cake and berries.
Throughout history, mankind has found new ways to turn frozen delicacies into more delicious desserts. Today, ice cream and gelato are incredibly commonplace.
Where Gelato Came From
It can be difficult to tell exactly when and where something as wonderful as gelato began, thanks to the myths and rumours that have been passed down over the years. However, we have two good possibilities to look at.
First, most people agree that Moors originally brought the concept of ice and fruit juice to Italy, or more specifically, Sicily. This became sorbetto, which is the base concept of gelato. The original recipe was written down by a man named Antonio Latini, who worked in Naples for the Spanish Viceroy. He made the first sorbetto with milk in place of fruit juices, which may be the first true ice cream.
The next step in creating gelato may have been brought about in one of two ways. One popular belief is that a chicken farmer created a dessert made from ice, fruit, and sugar, which he presented to Caterina de Midici. She enjoyed it so much that she took him to her wedding in France so he could make it for the wedding guests.
The other popular belief is that Bernardo Buontalenti came up with an elaborate concoction made from milk, egg yolks, citrus fruits and sweet wine, along with honey, and froze it. He then served it to Charles V of Spain, who delighted in the dessert and made it popular.
Which of these is the true origin of gelato? We’ll never know, but both probably had their part in the history of this incredible dessert.
We do know that in 1686, the first café began to serve gelato. The café, Il Procope, was run by a Sicilian living in Paris. Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli served the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, and Victor Hugo and presented gelato in small, egg cup-like bowls. Today, Procopio is considered the Father of Italian Gelato.
The Modern Ice Cream Fridge Contents
Today, you can walk into an ice cream parlour anywhere in the world and be assured that you’ll receive a fairly predictable product in the chilled display cabinet. You’ll find different flavours and bases, but overall, ice cream is ice cream and it’s pretty much the same in any country. It’s the perfect, creamy smooth and frozen treat on a hot day and many people will tell you it’s pretty amazing on a cold day, too.
There are four main options when it comes to these frozen desserts. These include:
Ice Cream: One of the more commonly found frozen desserts, ice cream is usually made from milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks. These are cooked into a custard base and then beaten as it is quickly frozen. This adds air to the mixture and makes it fluffier and creamier.
Gelato: While gelato is made of the same types of ingredients as ice cream, it may not incorporate eggs at all and there is usually more milk than cream. As it is frozen, the mixture is churned slowly, which incorporates less air and creates a final product that is denser than regular ice cream. It also has far less fat, which means the flavours are more noticeable. Gelato also tends to be softer than ice cream and will melt faster.
Frozen Yogurt: Yogurt is much lower in fat than cream, which means freezing it while churning will yield a creamy, highly flavoured frozen dessert. It tends to have a bit of a tang to it, thanks to the original fermentation process, but some companies add sweeteners in addition to fruit and other flavours to help offset that. It’s hailed as the healthy option and it can be, if there aren’t too many additives.
Sorbet: Fruit juice and water are frozen to make sorbet. It’s not a creamy option, like ice cream, but rather a shaved ice consistency and usually much lighter than ice cream or gelato, depending on whether it was churned as freezing or not.
As you look at the display freezer next time you’re considering which flavour options, keep in mind that there are some pretty big differences between the different types of frozen desserts.
Choosing the Right Ice Cream Freezer
Thankfully, we now have the technology to store our own frozen treats for as long as we wish . . . no ice blocks required! From the regular freezer to a display freezer for store use, it’s possible to keep gelato and ice cream frozen without worry.
It’s very important to keep your freezer at the right temperature, however. Depending on the frozen treat you’re storing, you’ll need to keep the temperature very cold or just cold enough to keep the gelato frozen. Remember that gelato is served just frozen, so it’s much softer than regular ice cream.
For businesses, a display freezer allows the customer to view the different flavours and select what looks good. You can either post the flavours in the window or mark each bucket of ice cream with its flavour to make things simple.
You’ll also be able to adjust the temperature and make sure to use different freezers for each type of frozen dessert. This will allow them to stay at the perfect temperature.
If you’re in the market for a quality ice cream freezer, you’ll want to look to TFSE Products for the perfect chilled counters. We give you plenty of options and allow your customers to see exactly what they’re getting.