Who Invented Ice Cream? A Delicious History of Ice Cream

Ice cream, a universally beloved dessert, has a rich history that spans the globe. Known as gelato in Italy, kulfi in India, and mochi in Japan, this versatile treat transcends cultures and languages, reflecting the unique flavors and traditions of each place.

Unraveling Who Invented Ice Cream: True Inventors of Ice Cream

Some sources suggest ice cream was invented in the Far East and brought to Europe by Marco Polo, while others suggest Catherine De Medici introduced the concept to France. However, these accounts oversimplify the rich weaving of ice cream’s evolution. Historical references, including those found in the Bible, depict early enjoyment of cool, icy drinks by figures such as King Solomon during the harvest season and indulgence in iced beverages by Alexander the Great and Nero, hinting at humanity’s long-standing fascination with eating ice cream or its ancestral forms.

The journey to the first known instance of ice cream as we understand it today leads us back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in China, marking it as the likely birthplace of ice cream. Emperors of the era savored frozen milk confections made from cow, buffalo, or goat milk, mixed with flour and camphor for enhanced flavor and texture. These early versions of ice cream were frozen in metal tubes and stored in ice pools, establishing the tradition of eating ice cream as a refined pleasure.

READ MORE: A Full Timeline of Chinese Dynasties in Order

As the tradition of icy desserts evolved, the Medieval era saw the advent of sherbet (sharabt in Arabic), a precursor to the ice cream sundae, enjoyed by Arabs and flavored with fruits like quince, pomegranate, or cherry. This delightful concoction would captivate the European aristocracy, with Italian and French chefs later mastering and refining its preparation.

The innovation did not stop with sherbet. The introduction of the ice cream cone at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis revolutionized the way people enjoyed ice cream, making it a portable and convenient treat. The invention of the ice cream soda in the late 19th century added a fizzy delight to the ice cream experience, laying the groundwork for the beloved ice cream sundae, a dish that combines ice cream with toppings such as syrup, nuts, and whipped cream in a single serving.

The 20th century saw the introduction of soft-serve ice cream, a lighter version that could be easily served from a machine with a smooth, creamy texture, further diversifying the ways in which ice cream could be enjoyed.

Throughout its history, from ancient ice pools to modern ice cream parlors, the evolution of ice cream has been marked by cultural exchanges and culinary innovation.

Early Frozen Desserts

Long before the term “ice cream” was coined, ancient civilizations were already enjoying frozen delights. Historical accounts suggest that as far back as the time of King Solomon, cool ice drinks were enjoyed during the harvest season. Notably, Alexander the Great of Ancient Greece had a penchant for iced drinks flavored with wine or honey. During Nero’s reign in Rome (54-68 BC), ice harvested from the mountains was stored in straw-covered pits for making icy concoctions.

READ MORE: How Did Alexander the Great Die: Illness or Not?

Persian Sweet Delight

The Persians, as early as 400 BCE, elevated the concept of frozen desserts to an unprecedented level by inventing a sophisticated method of ice storage. They constructed large, specially designed underground chambers called “yakhchāls.” This remarkable innovation enabled the preservation of ice and snow gathered during the winter months for use throughout the year. Utilizing this stored ice, they created a precursor to modern ice cream, known as “faloodeh.” This ancient treat, made from rose water, vermicelli, and ice, served as one of the earliest examples of flavored frozen desserts.

READ MORE: Who Invented Water? History of the Water Molecule

Turkish Sherbet

Parallel to Persian advancements, the Ottoman Empire developed sherbet (or sharbat), a sweet drink made from fruit juices, water, and sweeteners, often cooled with snow or ice. This tradition laid the groundwork for frozen desserts in the Middle East and would later influence European cuisine through trade and cultural exchange.

China Upgrades the Technology

The leap towards what we might recognize as ice cream occurred during the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907 AD). The Chinese developed methods to freeze dairy products using salt and ice mixtures. They created frozen milk confections made from cow, goat, or buffalo milk mixed with flour and flavored with camphor, an innovation that significantly influenced the texture and flavor of the frozen dessert.

Ice Cream Spreads to European Territories

In the 17th century, the transformation of ice drinks into desserts marked a significant evolution in the history of ice cream. Antonio Latini, serving a Spanish Viceroy in Naples, crafted the first recipe for sorbet and introduced a milk-based sorbet, laying the groundwork for modern ice cream. Concurrently, the opening of Il Procope in Paris in 1686 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli introduced gelato to the French, serving as a popular gathering spot for notable figures like Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. This period also saw the French experimenting with a dessert called “Fromage,” made from fruit-flavored ice with cream, sugar, and orange flower water, predating modern ice cream’s texture and flavor enhancements.

READ MORE: How Did Napoleon Die: Stomach Cancer, Poison, or Something Else?

Italian Ices

Italy’s contribution to ice cream’s history is unparalleled, with the invention of gelato—a smoother, richer version of sorbet. This evolution was crucial in refining frozen desserts into the creamy textures enjoyed today. Italian artisans’ mastery over these frozen confections soon spread across Europe, influencing subsequent variations and preparations.

Ice Cream in America

The journey of ice cream to America is less precise but believed to have been introduced by European settlers in the early 1700s. This era saw the publication of confectionary books, including recipes for ice creams, marking the beginning of America’s love affair with this dessert. The opening of the first ice cream parlor in New York in 1790, along with the documented indulgences of figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, underscores ice cream’s ingrained status in American culture. Washington’s notable expenditure on ice cream and Jefferson’s ice houses highlight the early American elite’s fascination with this cold treat. The tradition of serving ice cream at social gatherings, exemplified by Mary Todd Lincoln‘s strawberry parties, showcases the dessert’s role in American society.

Most Popular Ice Cream Variants

Ice cream’s delight lies in its simplicity and versatility, crafted from milk, cream, sugar, and sometimes egg yolks, resulting in a creamy treat enjoyed worldwide. Its ability to embrace a wide range of flavorings and mix-ins has led to beloved variants like vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, and cookie dough, each satisfying different tastes and showcasing the endless creativity possible with these fundamental ingredients.


Renowned for its elegant simplicity, vanilla ice cream stands as a testament to timeless taste and adaptability. It shines both as a stand-alone delicacy and as a foundational element for countless dessert masterpieces.


A staple for the cocoa aficionado, chocolate ice cream embodies richness and comfort with its profound, cocoa-rich essence, offering an indulgent escape for those who seek depth in their dessert.

Cookies and Cream

This contemporary favorite marries the creamy texture of vanilla ice cream with the satisfying crunch of chocolate cookies, creating a contrast that delights the palate with each spoonful.

Mint Chocolate Chip

Mint Chocolate Chip provides a refreshing burst of minty freshness, punctuated with rich chocolate chips, creating a harmonious blend of cool and sweet.

Strawberry Milkshake

More than just a flavor, Strawberry Milkshake ice cream captures the quintessential taste of summer with its creamy texture and the fresh, fruity essence of strawberries, transporting you to sunny days with every bite.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream

For those who revel in the taste of unbaked cookie dough, this ice cream variant presents a delightful mix of creamy ice cream and chewy cookie dough pieces, offering a textural adventure that’s both comforting and exciting.

Creamy Creations: Celebrating Ice Cream’s Universal Bliss

Ice cream’s diversity in flavors and textures caters to all tastes, evolving with trends and preferences. Its universal appeal lies in its variety, bringing joy and comfort to many. Enjoyed in various forms, ice cream stands as a symbol of culinary creativity and a beloved treat worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “Who Invented Ice Cream? A Delicious History of Ice Cream”

  1. Great. So now all I can think about is going for some Ben and Jerrys. There goes the diet!
    Well, I guess there’s always next week.


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