Ice cream

Ice cream (originally iced cream) is a frozen dessert made from dairy products such as cream (or equivalents), combined with flavourings and sweeteners. This mixture is super-cooled by stirring while reducing its temperature to prevent large ice crystals from forming. Traditionally, the temperature has been reduced by placing the ice cream mixture into a container that is immersed in a mixture of crushed ice and salt. The salt causes a change of state from frozen to liquid water, removing a large amount of heat from the ice cream in the process.

Ice cream treats in a display freezer.
Ice cream treats in a display freezer.

Although the term "ice cream" is sometimes used to mean frozen desserts and snacks in general, it is usually reserved for frozen desserts and snacks made with a high percentage of milk fat. Many countries, including the United States, regulate the use of some of these terms based on quantities of ingredients.

Modern commercial ice cream is made from a mixture of ingredients:

These ingredients make up the solid part of the ice cream, but only 50% of the final volume, the remainder being air incorporated during the whipping process. Generally, the cheaper the ice-cream, the cheaper the ingredients, and the more air is incorporated (since ice cream is sold by volume, it's economically advantageous for producers to reduce the density of the product). Artisan-produced ice creams, such as Berthillon's, often contain none to very little air.

Ice-creams come in a wide variety of flavours, often with additives such as chocolate flakes or chips, nuts, fruit, and small candies/sweets. Some of the most popular ice cream flavours in supermarkets are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and Neapolitan (a combination of the three).



Before the development of modern refrigeration by German engineer Carl von Linde during the 1870s, ice cream was a luxury item reserved for very special occasions and was consumed with gusto.

The making of ice cream was originally an extremely laborious process. Ice was cut commercially from lakes and ponds during the winter and stored in large heaps in holes in the ground, insulated by straw. Ice cream was made by hand in a large bowl surrounded by packed ice. The hand-cranked churn was invented in 1846, making production simpler, and the world's first commercial ice cream factory opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 1851.

A big factor in making the production easier, obviating the need for cutting and storing natural ice, was the development of modern refrigeration during the 1870s. The continuous process freezer was perfected in 1926, allowing commercial mass-production of ice cream and the birth of the modern ice cream industry.

The most common method for producing ice-cream at home is to use an ice-cream machine, generally some electrical device that churns the ice cream while refrigerated inside a household freezer.

Commercial delivery

 in the UK.
Ice cream van in the UK.

Today, ice cream is enjoyed around the world on a daily basis thanks to mass production. Ice cream can be purchased in large tubs and squrounds from supermarkets/grocery stores, in smaller quantities from ice cream shops, convenience stores, and milk bars, and in individual serves from small carts or vans at public events and places. There are even some ice cream manufacturers who sell ice cream products door-to-door from travelling refrigerated vans.

Ice cream throughout the world

Globalisation has made available ice cream styles from around the world. For example, Japanese mochi ice cream is now popular in California, even outside of Japanese restaurants and Little Tokyos.


Ice cream today is a traditional dessert in Italy, where it is still mostly hand-made, though one of the most known ice cream machine makers is the Carpigiani.

Before the cone became popular for serving ice cream, Italian street vendors would serve the ice cream in a small glass dish referred to as a 'penny lick' or wrapped in waxed paper and known as a hokey-pokey (possibly a corruption of the Italian "ecco un poco" - "here is a little").

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, much of the lower-priced ice cream sold, including that from ice cream vans, has no milk or milk solids content at all. Instead, it is made with vegetable oil, usually hydrogenated palm kernel oil. However, ice cream sold as dairy ice cream must contain milk fat, and many companies make sure that dairy is prominently displayed on their packaging or businesses.


There are several popular legends surrounding the discovery of ice cream. Saltpeter was used for the production of gunpowder in China, and the Chinese discovered that saltpeter in water caused the water to absorb heat, thus creating ice in summer. The Chinese put sugar in the ice and sold them as food during the summer. It is believed that the Song dynasty (宋朝) was the time when people began putting fruit juice in the water used to create the ice; milk was beginning to be used in the Yuan dynasty (元朝). Marco Polo supposedly saw ice cream being made on his trip to China, bringing the recipe home to Italy with him on his return. From there, Catherine de Medici's Italian chefs are said to have carried the recipe to France when she went there in 1533 to marry the Duc d'Orlans. Charles I was supposedly so impressed by the "frozen snow" that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula secret, so that ice cream could be a royal prerogative. There is, however, no historical evidence to support this legend, which first appeared during the 19th century and was probably created by imaginative ice cream vendors. Ice cream most likely did originate in China, but it is unknown how and when the idea made its way into the Western world.

While it was not yet ice cream per se, some examples of early pre-planned, ice dishes include the Roman emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68) who is said to have ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined with fruit toppings, and King Tang (A.D. 618-97) of the Shang Dynasty who is said to have had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions. People living directly alongside snow and ice have probably always put sweet things like honey and fruit juice on frozen water for variety, as some still do to this day. Snow-cones, made from balls of crushed ice topped with sweet syrup served in a paper cone, are consumed in many parts of the world.

Even earlier, in 400 BC Persia, a special chilled pudding-like dish, made of rosewater and vermicelli, working out as something like a cross between a sorbet and a rice pudding was served to the royalty during summers. The Persians had already mastered the technique of storing ice inside giant naturally cooled refrigerators known as yakh-chals. These storages kept ice brought in from the winter or from nearby mountains well into the summer. The storages worked by using tall windcatchers that kept the sub-level storage space at frigid temperatures. The ice was then mixed in with saffron, fruits, and various other flavors. The treat, widely made today in Iran, is called "faludeh", which is made from starch (wheat, probably), spun in a kind of sieve-like contraption which produces threads or drops of the batter, which are boiled in water. The mix is then frozen, and mixed with Rosewater and lemons, before serving. 1 ( 2 (

Contemporary western-style ice cream, however was probably “discovered” in the 1600’s, and was introduced to the United States jointly by Ben Franklin (who brought the idea from France), George Washington (who bought the first ice cream maker in the US), and Thomas Jefferson (who enthusiastically served it at parties and included a recipe in his published cook book). This was followed in the mid 19th century by the invention of the ice cream soda, then the ice cream sundae later in the century to placate religious conservatives, and both the ice cream cone and banana split in the first years of the 20th century.

20th century

The history of ice cream in the 20th century is one of great change and increase in availability and popularity. Retail storefront outlets developed as chains of ice cream stores, such as Baskin Robbins.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the ice cream soda was probably the single most popular teen delicacy in America, so much so that religious conservatives considered it sinful and subversive, giving rise to actual legal prohibition of the stuff on holy days, which probably influenced the creation of the modern ice cream sundae.

Ice cream became extremely popular throughout the world in the second half of the 20th century after cheap refrigeration became common, and wages became high enough to indulge in such minor luxuries. Soon there was an explosion of ice cream stores and of flavours and types.

One important development in the 20th century was the introduction of soft ice cream. A chemical research team in Britain (of which a young Margaret Thatcher was a member) discovered a method of doubling the amount of air in ice cream. This allowed manufacturers to use less of the actual ingredients, saving money. The ice cream was also very popular amongst consumers who preferred the light flavour, and most major ice cream brands now use this manufacturing process.

Interestingly enough the 1990s saw a return of the older, thicker, ice creams being sold as elite varieties. Both Ben and Jerry's and Hagen-Dazs fall into this category.

Ice cream cone

The use of a cone for serving ice cream can be traced back to Mrs Marshall's Cookery Book published in 1888. Agnes Marshall was a celebrated cookery writer of her day and helped to popularise ice cream. She patented and manufactured an ice cream maker and was the first person to suggest using liquid gases to freeze ice cream after seeing a demonstration at the Royal Institution. The first ice cream cones were introduced at the Word's Fair in 1904.

The popularity of selling ice cream in cones increased greatly after Charles E. Menches of St. Louis, Missouri used them at the St. Louis World's fair in 1904. The story behind why ice creams were sold at the World's Fair is that the ice cream seller had ran out of small cups, and without them could not sell anymore ice cream. Next door to the ice cream booth was the waffle booth, the waffle maker offered to make cones out of stiff waffles, and the new product became extremely popular at the fair and was widely copied by other vendors.

Using liquid nitrogen

Adding liquid nitrogen with the rest of the ingredients and stirring vigorously produces a very smooth ice cream. The preparation is spectacular, since it results in a column of white condensed vapor, reminiscent of movie depictions of witches' cauldrons. The result, due to the extreme rapid cooling of the mixture, is a very smooth ice cream containing only small ice crystals.

Warning: Nitrogen will displace breathable oxygen in the air when boiled. The use of a large quantity of liquid nitrogen in an inadequately ventilated space poses a possible suffocation risk. As long as the liquid nitrogen has completely vaporized, the remaining nitrogen bubbles are perfectly harmless, since nitrogen is the major component of air. Note that the nitrogen used in laboratories may have been contaminated by possibly harmful chemicals. Furthermore, care has to be taken not to leave chunks of very cold ice inside the mix. See Wikipedia:Risk disclaimer.

Ice cream alternatives

The following is a partial list of ice-cream-like frozen desserts and snacks:

  • Ice milk: Less than 10% milk fat and lower sweetening content.
  • Frozen custard: More than 10% milkfat and egg yolk. Considered a kind of ice cream because of the high fat content.
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Gelato
  • Sherbet: 1-2% milk fat and more sweetener than ice cream.
  • Sorbet: fruit puree and no milk products
  • Pop: frozen fruit puree, fruit juice, or flavored sugar water on a stick or in a flexible plastic sleeve.
  • Kulfi: brought to Pakistan and India by the Mughals from Persia during the 1500s, later as the result of colonialism and immigration to the West.

Some ice creams are made without milk. Soy ice cream and rice ice cream are made with soy milk or rice milk instead. A minority of non-dairy ice creams are based on nut butter.

See also

External links

de:Speiseeis he:גלידה it:Gelato fi:Jtel fr:Glace ja:アイスクリーム nl:Roomijs no:Iskrem sv:Glass zh:冰淇淋


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