In its simplest form, ice cream (or ice-cream, icecream) is a frozen dessert made from dairy products (milk, cream or custard) 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 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 advent of modern refrigeration, ice cream was a luxury item reserved for very special occasions. Today, icecream is enjoyed around the world on a daily basis thanks to commercial mass-production and the home freezer. Ice cream is often bought in large tubs from supermarkets/grocery stores, in smaller quantities from ice cream shops, convenience stores and milk bars, and in individual serves from small carts/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.
Modern commercial ice cream is made from a mixture of:
- 10-16% milkfat
- 9 to 12% milk solids-not-fat: this component, also known as the serum solids, contains the proteins (caseins and whey proteins) and carbohydrates (lactose) found in milk
- 12 to * 16% sweeteners: usually a combination of sucrose and/or glucose-based corn syrup sweeteners
- 0.2 to 0.5% stabilizers and emulsifiers e.g., agar
- 55% to 64% water which comes from the milk or other ingredients
There are several popular legends surrounding the discovery of ice cream. 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'Orléans. 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 fable, 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.
The making of ice cream was originally an extremely laborious process. It 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. The continuous process freezer was perfected in 1926, allowing commercial mass-production of ice cream and the birth of the modern ice cream industry.
Ice cream today is a traditional dessert in Italy, where it is still mostly hand-made, even if one of the most known ice cream machine makers is the Italian Carpigiani.
One of the most familiar ice cream desserts is the ice cream sundae, which was came into being in 1881 when Ed Berners of Two Rivers, Wisconsin decided to make a special dish to sell in his store. Berners charged five cents and only served the dessert on Sundays, hence the name.
Before the cone became popular for serving ice cream, 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"). 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 Royal Institution.
The history of ice cream in the twentieth 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.
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.
Ice cream became extremely popular throughout the world in the second half of the twentieth century after cheap refrigeration became common, and wages became high enough to indulge in such luxury items. Soon there was an explosion of ice cream stores and of flavours and types.
One important development in the twentieth 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.
Recently, globalisation has brought ice cream styles from around the world to various places. For example, Japanese mochi ice cream is now popular in California, even outside of Japanese restaurants and Little Tokyos.
The worst ever ice cream flavor was probably that of "Squirrel".