History of the Ice Cream

So where did it all start? Legend has all sorts of fanciful stories about Marco Polo bringing ice cream from China and Catherine de' Medici introducing it to France and King Charles I having his own personal ice cream maker; all wonderful stories, but sadly there is not a scrap of historic evidence to back up any of these legends. Marco Polo didn't introduce either ice cream or pasta to Europe and worse still, he probably never even went to China. Most of these myths seem to have been introduced by the Victorians.

The earliest evidence of anything approaching ice cream being made was in China in the Tang period (A.D. 618-907). Buffalo, cows' and goats' milk was heated and allowed to ferment. This 'yoghurt' was then mixed with flour for thickening, camphor (yes camphor!) for flavour and 'refrigerated' before being served. King Tang of Shang had a staff of 2,271 people which included 94 ice-men.

The early methods of freezing foods needs some explanation. Freezing of foods was achieved by mixing salt with ice. Mixing salt with ice reduces the freezing point and it is quite easy to achieve temperatures lower than -14C. Just who discovered the process is unknown, but it was probably invented by the Chinese. It was written about in India in the 4th century, and the first technical description of ice making using various salts was by an Arab medical historian Ibn Abu Usaybi (A.D. 1230-1270).

But the process did not arrive in Europe until 1503, in Italy where it was considered a chemists party trick, using various acids, water and salts. However, it was not used for food until water ices (sorbets) appeared in the 1660s in Naples, Florence, Paris and Spain. Later in 1664 ices made with sweetened milk first appeared in Naples.

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