Happy National Ice Cream Day! Although I rarely eat it or buy it, what better way to cool off during this long, hot summer then with a big bowl of Butter Pecan or Cookies and Cream? Today there are many versions and flavors of ice cream, but according to the International Dairy Foods Association, that hasn’t always been the case.
The origins of ice cream go waaaaay back and it could be said they are biblical. There are mentions of a B.C. ice cream, with references of King Solomon loving his iced drinks. Still, no specific date or inventor is credited with its discovery. Alexander the Great is known to have enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar and during the Roman Empire, Caesar sent workers into the mountains to retrieve snow, which he would later flavor with fruits and juices.
That’s about all we know until more than 1,000 years later, when Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that resembled what we call sherbet today. Various countries contend for the actual title of “ice cream inventor,” with England claiming to have done so in the 16th century and France introducing frozen desserts in 1553, but it wasn’t until ice cream was available to the general public in a café in Paris that you could say it went viral in a very primitive kind of way.
The U.S. was a bit slower in its love for and discovery of a bowl of frozen anything. Ice cream was first advertised in America in the “New York Gazette” in 1777, but the first official account of ice cream stateside came in a letter written in 1744 by a guest of Maryland’s governor. He wasn’t the only statesman to favor the dessert. Inventory records of Mount Vernon revealed two pewter ice cream pots belonging to George Washington and none other than Dolley Madison is known to have served a strawberry version at President Madison’s second inaugural ball.
Ice cream remained an elite confection until around 1800 when insulated ice cream houses were invented. By 1851, the manufacturing revolution changed not only America as a whole, but the ice cream industry as well. Steam power, mechanical refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric powered motors, new freezing processes, and motorized delivery all contributed to bringing ice cream to the masses. Today Americans serve up more than 1.6 billion gallons of Haagen Dazs, Blue Bell, and every brand in between.
The dessert’s growing popularity also led to offshoot enterprises, including the quintessential American soda fountain shop and its quickly popular ice cream soda. Think 1950s and you think soda fountain: cute little counter seats all lined up and white-attired staff waiting to serve you. You don’t get any more American than that.
Still, some protested and their grievances resulted in a dessert concoction that even I can’t resist: the ice cream sundae. When religious leaders complained about congregations partaking in what they called “sinfully rich sodas” on Sundays, ice cream merchants responded by eliminating the carbonated water from the dessert and the name was later changed to “sundae” to remove any connection to the Sabbath. I did not know this!
World War II is also historically rich with ice cream legend. Apparently each branch of the military raced to outdo each other in serving ice cream to the troops. When the war ended, dairy rationing was lifted and America celebrated the victory in many ways, including with ice cream. Maybe that’s where “I scream, you scream” came from!
It didn’t take long for retailers to take note and more and more prepackaged ice cream was sold in supermarkets. Sadly, this commercial renaissance coincided with the slow but steady disappearance of ice cream parlors and soda fountains but ice cream stores could be found on every corner. One of my happiest childhood memories was my mom and dad packing my two sisters and me in the car and heading to Baskin Robbins for our pick of one of their 31 flavors. And despite the bad rap they get from some, who doesn’t remember the memory and the excitement at the mere sound of the neighborhood ice cream truck?
Today we celebrate all things ice cream thanks to President Ronald Reagan, a huge fan of a scoop or two who declared July 15 “National Ice Cream Day.” Thank you Ronnie!
If you are an ice cream lover, there are many ways to celebrate a bowlful, including by visiting the Museum of Ice Cream (yes, there is one!) in San Francisco. So far ice cream has come; that the museum is a hit on Instagram and the U.S. Postal Service just this summer released their “Forever Frozen Treats” stamps series. Not only are the stamps festive and fun to look at, they are the first ever scratch-and-sniff stamps.
So there’s the scoop on ice cream, but what about all the different kinds? What is the difference, you ask, between ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and sherbet? According to realsimple.com, not all frozen treats are created equal. Here’s the scoop on that.
Ice Cream. The USDA requires any frozen treat labeled “ice cream” to contain at least 10 percent milk fat and the product must also get churned during freezing.
Gelato. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know this stuff is the bomb. The word means “ice cream” in Italian but the two are not the same. Gelato also has a custard base like ice cream, but it contains less milk fat and less churned air, resulting in a denser texture and a softer, glossier look. Gelato is also traditionally served at slightly warmer temperatures.
Sorbet. Containing only fruit and sugar and no dairy, this is what you’ve been served as a palette cleanser during multi-course meals. Sorbet’s intense fruit flavor makes it the perfect refreshing accoutrement.
Sherbet. Sorbet’s creamier cousin, sherbet is basically sorbet with milk, usually buttermilk. It also contains cream, egg whites, and gelatin.
Frozen custard. This is what you’re looking for if you’re looking for creamy. Frozen custard is made just like ice cream but with added egg yolk, resulting in a delectable texture that’s similar to melted ice cream. This stuff is especially popular in the Midwest and South.
Frozen yogurt. Instead of milk or cream, frozen yogurt is just that: yogurt. It is usually more tart and lower in fat than ice cream.
As for calories and fat content, we all know ice cream is loaded with both, but what about the options? In general, ice cream contains at least 10 percent butter fat but often times that content is between 15-25 percent. Italian gelato, on the other hand, contains less than 10 percent fat while most sorbets are naturally fat-free. Don’t let that fool you though, as what they lack in fat they make up with in sugar. They also lack calcium since they’re non-dairy. Calorie-wise, most sherbets and sorbets have the same number of calories as any “light,” “low-fat,” or “nonfat” ice cream or frozen yogurt.
In a nutshell (and nuts are great on ice cream!), the pros and cons of ice cream and all things ice creamy are there for the taking so make your choice and make it special.