One of the most wonderful things about enjoying ice cream for dessert with your family and friends is that there is something for everyone. Just about any taste preference can be accommodated and there are tons of options for flavors and toppings. Whether your tastes are traditional or adventurous, this versatile dessert keeps us coming back for more! We tend to think of our favorite ice cream flavors and toppings as a modern invention. However, people have been enjoying many of these flavors for a very long time.
Ancient frozen treats
Although there is a lot of speculation about who invented ice cream and where it came from, we do know people have been eating some version of frozen desserts similar to ice cream since ancient times.
The earliest versions are thought to have been eaten in the Persian Empire. This empire used ice or snow flavored with fruit and fruit juices. These desserts were more like the granita, Italian ices or snow cones that we know today. Another frozen dessert using a mixture of milk, rice and snow may also have been eaten in China around the same time.
Later, the Roman emperors also consumed ice or snow flavored with fruit and juices. While fruit flavors were the most common, it is known that nuts, honey and rosewater were also used.
The Arab world may have started adding milk and sugar to their desserts around the 10th century A.D. However, this dessert was probably closer to yogurt than ice cream. These first frozen treats were reserved for royalty and eventually spread to Europe.
Ice cream flavors in Europe
The first published recipes for flavored ice began appearing in French cookbooks in the late 1600s. The addition of cream to these desserts seems to have started in England in the early 1700s. Cookbooks from this period suggest that berry flavors such as strawberry and raspberry were used, along with cherry and lemon. The cream used during this time could be either sweetened or unsweetened.
According to an article published by the University of California, by the time the first cookbook dedicated entirely to ice cream was published in 1768, the use of flavored cream was common. Since the freezing techniques had been perfected, more experimentation with flavors started. Flavorings such as grated cheese, candied orange blossoms, rye bread, brown bread and cookies were added to the cream. These additives were left in long enough to provide flavor, and later strained out. For bread and cookies, crumbs could be added on top of the ice cream before serving. This serving method was probably the predecessor of our modern day cookies and cream flavor.
There is even mention of some flavors that didn’t quite work. Two of the more notable failures were asparagus and duck liver! It was also around this same time that ice cream became more widely available and more popular among the middle class.
Ice cream flavors in the United States
Ice cream came to the United States with European colonists and the first parlor opened in New York City in 1776. Ice cream making techniques improved drastically with the invention of the hand cranked ice cream freezer in the 1840s and the first ice cream factory in the U.S. was built in 1851. Mass production, and later, the introduction of industrial refrigeration allowed ice cream to become increasingly popular and affordable. However, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry were the only widely and consistently available flavors prior to the introduction of Rocky Road in 1929.
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