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Ice cream.

The delicious history of ice cream throughout the ages

Who doesn’t love ice cream? Less clear cut, however, is who invented it. We don’t know for sure how ice cream came to be but here’s what we do know about its history.

Ice cream.

Image via Pixabay.

The first brush Europeans had with something resembling ice-cream was likely around the 1300s, when explorer Marco Polo returned to Italy from China. Along with his wild stories of adventure and exotic lands, Polo also bore the recipe for a dessert we’d call sherbet or sorbet. Later on, this recipe likely evolved into the ice cream we know and love today sometime during the 16th century. It really came into its own during the 20th century, with the advent of new refrigeration techniques that allowed for the mass production of ice cream.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves — let’s not start eating this treat from the cone up, as it were. The story of ice-cream (what we know of it, at least) starts, surprisingly enough, in Antiquity.

Ice Cream Age

To the best of our knowledge, ice cream first reared its refreshing head in the Persian empire of yore. We don’t know, for sure, who first came up with the idea or when. However, around 500 B.C., we have evidence of the Persians mixing ice with grape juice, fruit juice, or other pleasantly-tasting flavors to produce an ice-cream-like treat. Needless to say, during that time and especially in that place (the Persian Empire stretched from India to Egypt and Turkey, so it was a very hot place generally) this delicacy was very hard and very expensive to produce, making it a noble or royal dish.

Their ice cream more closely resembled what we’d call sorbet today in texture and taste. Still, it was highly-regarded due to its scarcity and was probably greatly enjoyed in the Persian heat by those who could afford it.

Eventually, the Persian Empire met its maker in the form of one Alexander the Great, who waged war on them for about ten years. Warmaking is hot, tiring stuff, and accounts from Alexander’s campaigns say he took a particular liking to the local “fruit ices”, which are described as a honey-sweetened dish chilled using snow. The Persian dessert further evolved through time and was inherited by Iranians in the form of faloodeh, a traditional chilled dessert. Following the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 AD, the Arab world also adopted this dish.


This is sherbet.
Image credits Elizabeth Rose.

Likely through Alexander’s phalangites returning home from their campaigns, ice cream was gradually introduced to early Western societies, eventually finding its way to the Emperor’s court in Rome. Icecreamhistory cites “tales from this period” telling of “armies of runners, who carried ice from mountains to big Roman cities during summers”, showcasing how appreciated the dish became among Roman nobles and Emperors. Emperor Nero is recorded as being a big fan of the dessert.

Ice cream R&D was going strong in China and Arab countries during the 9th to 11th centuries. Around this time, confectioners started experimenting with milk-based ice creams, more akin to the ones we enjoy today. Their ideas slowly made their way to Europe on the backs of traders and wanderers such as Marco Polo. The strong Mediterranean economic presence of the Italian city-states at the time, especially their trade with Muslim countries, put them in a unique position to draw on these ideas, which is why the country has such a strong tradition of ice cream making to this day.

The fact that ice cream was definitely still rare and expensive to produce at this time likely helped fuel its development, alongside that of refrigeration techniques, as there was a lot of money to be made in the business at the time. However, it also kept ice cream from becoming the widely-enjoyed treat that it is today. With a hefty price tag, and in the absence of any means of effectively storing ice or snow, it remained a very exclusive dish up until the 17th or 18th century in Europe.

The Icedustrial Revolution

There is some debate as to where ice cream first made its European debut. “Cream Ice” as it was known there at the time, made its way to England sometime in the 16th century. During the 17th century, it was a regular fixture at the table of Charles I. France got its first taste of the desert in 1553 after Catherine de Medici (Italian) wed Henry II of France.

However, everybody seems to agree that ice cream was first made available to the general public in 1660, when a Sicilian man named Procopio Cutò introduced a recipe of frozen milk, cream, butter, and eggs (gelato) at Café Procope (called the oldest café in Paris), which he owned. Procopio is credited as the inventor of gelato.

New production and refrigeration methods allowed ice and ice cream to be produced in greater quantities, and cheaper than ever before. The dessert made its way to America on the backs of these technologies in the mid-17th century, and after a few decades became available to the general public. Around 1850, large commercial entities started dabbling in the production and sale of ice cream, which further brought costs down and allowed more people than ever to enjoy the frozen treat.

The biggest single boon for ice cream was the advent of commercially-available, continuous electrical refrigeration after World War I. The ability to store ice cream for long periods of time without damaging it practically gave the industry wings; production during this time rose hundredfold, especially in the United States that escaped the war unravaged, which brought prices down to unheard-of-before lows.

Ice cream truck.

And to new neighborhoods.
Image credits Leonie Schoppema.

Ice cream also gained an unexpected boost on global markets during World War II, when both flash-frozen and dried ice creams became part of the official US Army combat rations. These were distributed to US soldiers in every and all theater of operations: Europe, North Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific fronts. In fact, ice cream played a central role in keeping up US soldiers’ calorie intake,  as well as their morale and fighting spirit. An article in The Atlantic that looks at the role of ice cream in the American war effort during World War II (it’s a very good piece, do give it a read) cites an editorial in the May 1918 issue of The Ice Cream Review, a monthly trade magazine, that shows where this treat fit into military life during the first world war.

“In this country every medical hospital uses ice cream as a food and doctors would not know how to do without it. But what of our wounded and sick boys in France? Are they to lie in bed wishing for a dish of good old American ice cream? They are up to the present, for ice cream and ices are taboo in France,” The Ice Cream Review wrote. “It clearly is the duty of the Surgeon General or some other officer to demand that a supply be forthcoming.”

You could chalk those lines up to industry lobbying — and it’s probably exactly what that was. But by 1942, the situation had changed dramatically. Whether as a result of lobbying, of grassroots support from GIs, or simply out of a desire to give those on the front the best comforts one could realistically provide them with, ice cream was often seen on American lines.

When the U.S.S. Lexington, the second-largest aircraft carrier in the US Navy at the time, had to be scuttled to avoid capture by Japanese forces, “the crew abandoned ship — but not before breaking into the freezer and eating all the ice cream. Survivors describe scooping ice cream into their helmets and licking them clean before lowering themselves into the Pacific,” the article explains.

“The U.S. Navy spent $1 million in 1945 converting a concrete barge into a floating ice-cream factory to be towed around the Pacific, distributing ice cream to ships incapable of making their own,” Matt Siegel wrote for The Atlantic. “It held more than 2,000 gallons of ice cream and churned out 10 gallons every seven minutes.”

“Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army constructed miniature ice-cream factories on the front lines and began delivering individual cartons to foxholes. This was in addition to the hundreds of millions of gallons of ice-cream mix they manufactured annually, shipping more than 135 million pounds of dehydrated ice cream in a single year.”

Immediately after the war, ice cream was perceived as an American invention. It’s not hard to understand why. Most of the industrialized world had been bombed halfway back to the stone age in not one but two massive conflicts, so frozen dessert wasn’t high on anybody else’s to-do list. Hollywood also helped promote ice cream, which was regularly included in movies and its overarching culture. The icy appeal of ice cream proved irresistible, and as the world dragged itself out of the rubble and horror of war, other countries started churning out their own. This period also saw a great deal of experimentation with and development of new types of ice cream, most notably the soft ice cream and sundae varieties that are highly-appreciated to this day.

ice cream

The lesser-known causes of food poisoning that may ruin dessert for you

ice cream

Credit: Pixabay.

You might take every precaution when barbecuing burgers and grilling chicken wings, but food poisoning could be lurking where you least expect it: in the cold desserts we turn to after a long day in the sun.

During the summer, more people cook outside at picnics and barbecues, removing the safety a kitchen provides – the sink to wash your hands in, the sterilised countertops to prepare food on, the thermostat-controlled cooking and refrigeration to kill bacteria…

An estimated one million people are affected by food-borne disease in the UK every year, costing the economy in excess of £1 billion. The usual bacterial suspects include Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, all of which thrive in the summer’s warmer temperatures, causing spikes in the number of food poisoning cases reported.

Food nourishes us and it offers the same appeal for bacteria – providing a rich supply of nutrients needed for growth and multiplying. When we eat contaminated food, our body responds with symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and loss of appetite. We’ve got much better at preventing contamination in barbecued meat, but what else are we missing?

Ice cream, you scream

Aside from the well known risks of diabetes and obesity, ice cream really does have the potential to make you very sick. In 2015, five people were hospitalised and three died after eating ice cream that had been contaminated by Listeria in Topeka, Kansas.

Such cases are rare and were through no fault of the consumers. Food manufacturers have checks and strategies to ensure the safety of ingredients, but even the best have recalled products that were contaminated at their outset. In the case of Topeka, Listeria bacteria were present in the ice cream from Blue Bell Creamery at levels of one and ten colony forming units (cfu) per gram. This is actually significantly lower than the maximum permitted value for frozen desserts in the UK, which is 100 cfu per gram. As if to illustrate the point, several companies have had to recall ice cream for suspected contamination with E. coli in the past.

However, ice cream can also pose a danger after purchase if it has melted and then been refrozen. This often happens when it is taken from the freezer, left out to thaw and then returned to the freezer before being taken out again to eat later. Ice cream melts fairly rapidly at room temperature and the milky, sugary, liquid concoction is a perfect petri dish for bacteria like Listeria, essentially the second time you dig into the tub.

Your best defense from a brain freeze-stomach ache combo is to avoid leaving the tub out and to put it back in the freezer once you’ve scooped out the amount you want. Double dipping with a dirty spoon is also not only inconsiderate, it’s an invitation to every nasty bug nearby.

For the intrepid, there are many options for DIY ice cream treats. However, you may end up traversing more than an online recipe if you opt for raw eggs in the base, as hundreds of people find out each year after succumbing to Salmonella poisoning.

Commercially manufactured ice cream is typically made with pasteurised eggs, and so it’s recommended to only use pasteurised milk and cream when making homemade ice cream. Even then, there are still dangers with using pasteurised products and so starting with a cooked base is advised to be on the safe side.

The ‘healthy’ option

Summer sees an explosion of options for iced coffees, fruit smoothies and shakes in cafe chains. Unfortunately, a recent BBC watchdog investigation found high levels of faecal bacteria in ice at three major high street retailers in the UK.

And it isn’t only processed food and drink that can ruin your weekend. Cantaloupes and watermelons have been linked to Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria outbreaks, as pathogens from the soil can reside in the fruit’s skin. Washing your fruit under running water is usually sufficient, but bacteria can be introduced to the inside of the melon if the outside is not washed properly, giving them all the nutrients they need and the proper temperature and time to grow. Many bacteria produce a smell which indicates that the fruit is past its best, but Listeria can grow in the fridge with no smell or taste.

If you’re worried about any nasty surprises from food you thought was safe, take comfort in the fact that the typical advice is usually the best. Wash your hands thoroughly, monitor the temperature of your food and ensure you don’t leave food in the warmth for too long.

Amreen Bashir, Lecturer in Biomedical Science, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Banana-sourced cellulose could level up our ice creams

Banana waste could, unexpectedly, hold the secret to better tasting, longer-lasting ice cream.


Image via Pexels.

Ice cream, while still in its ‘cream’ form, is definitely one of man’s more fortunate inventions. Nice things don’t tend to last long, however, and ice cream is no exception — on the hot days when you need it most, it’ll readily turn into ice soup.

According to an international team of researchers, that’s because our ice cream lacks one vital ingredient: bananas. Tiny cellulose fibers extracted from banana waste, to be exact.


According to a paper that will be presented today (the 21st of March) at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New Orleans, adding banana-derived cellulose fibers to our ice cream mix would make the end product thicker, harder to melt, and more palatable.

“As a result, this would allow for a more relaxing and enjoyable experience with the food, especially in warm weather,” says Robin Zuluaga Gallego, lead researcher for the study.

Despite the undeniable popularity that ice cream enjoys today, food scientists have long sought to overcome some of its innate drawbacks — chief among them, its tendency to melt. And they seem to really, really want to make ice-cream reconsider its melty ways, as they’ve gone as far as mixing in wood pulp extracts in an effort to keep it more stable under heat. Other, less wooden ways of going about it, have also popped up, such as a paper published last year by Japanese researchers that developed a melt-resistant ice cream based on polyphenols found in strawberries.

Zuluaga’s team, which brought together researchers from Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia and the University of Guelph in Canada, set out to investigate a different approach based on bananas instead of strawberries. Much of this came down to sheer practicality — banana plants are considered waste after the fruits have been collected, whereas strawberries don’t leave much by-product after harvesting.

In particular, the team wanted to see if fibrous material extracted banana fruit stems, or rachis, could be used to slow down melting and extend ice cream‘s shelf life. The researchers first harvested cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) — particles that are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair — from ground-up banana rachis. Then, they mixed various concentrations of CNFs (from zero, used as a control, up to 0.3g/100grams of ice cream) and analyzed how this impacted the end product’s physical properties.

Ice cream mixed with CNFs tended to melt significantly more slowly than traditional compositions, the team reports. They also note than CNFs could extend the shelf life of ice cream products, and decrease their sensitivity to temperature changes as they’re being moved about. No more refrozen ice-cream, yay!

It’s not only producers that will see benefits here. CNFs increased the viscosity of low-fat ice cream — viscosity is what gives the item its texture, it’s what puts the ‘cream’ in ice cream. Paper co-author Velásquez Cock also said that CNFs could help stabilize the fats contained in ice creams, meaning they could potentially replace some of the fats — which would slash calories — without having a noticeable effect on taste, texture, or your overall enjoyment of the product.

Next, the researchers plan to test how different types of fat interact with CNFs in ice cream and other frozen foodstuffs.

The paper “Cellulose nanofibrils in ice cream: an analysis of its influence on the matrix structure” will be presented later today at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New Orleans. You can watch it live here:

Science finds the most and least addictive foods

Scientists from the University of Michigan have found which are the most and least addictive foods in the world. They gathered data from over 500 participants and found that the most addictive foods are (no surprise) pizza, ice cream and chocolate, while the least addictive ones are cucumbers, carrots, beans and rice.

Pizza was the most addictive food, according to questionnaires answered by 400 people.


It’s been debated for years whether or not food addiction actually exists; naturally, we are all addicted to food in the sense that we have to eat in order to survive. But can you actually be addicted to certain foods, like hamburgers? There is still no general consensus on this, but biologists seem to dismiss this idea, while many psychologists claim that food addiction is a real, serious problem – there are documented cases with people going through withdrawal-like symptoms when living without certain foods. With this in mind, a researcher from the University of Michigan and one from the New York Obesity Research Center, the Department of Medicine set out to find what are the most addictive foods.

For this, they asked participants to answer questions based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale. The scale was designed in 2009 by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and asks people to answer 25 questions on how much they like a certain food. The scale asks participants to count the number of times they’ve agreed with sentences like, “I eat to the point where I feel physically ill” or “I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or fatigued from overeating,” to help them identify the biggest offenders. Scientists emphasized that “foods” doesn’t mean only unprocessed foods like fruits and vegetables, but can also apply to processed foods.

However, when the same study was conducted on undergrads, chocolate turned out to be the most addictive food.

Study 1 – the undergraduates

They conducted two separate studies to see what foods are considered problematic – how much is a certain food overeaten or eaten up to the point where it causes physical discomfort. The first study was conducted on 120 undergraduates. who were recruited from flyers on campus or through the University of Michigan Introductory Psychology Subject Pool. Students received either financial compensation or study credit for their time.

No surprises there, chocolate took the top spot, with over 1 in 4 people considering chocolate problematic. Ice cream, french fries and pizza followed, again, rather expectedly. But there were also some surprises: breakfast cereals were more problematic than soda or fried chicken, while water was considered to be more problematic than cucumbers or beans… I guess no one really loves beans.


“As hypothesized, highly processed foods (with added fat and/or refined carbohydrates) appeared to be most associated with behavioral indicators of addictive-like eating,” the study writes.

Study 2

Ice is always one of the favorites.

The team also conducted a second study, on almost 400 participants.

“A total of 398 participants were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) worker pool to complete a study about eating behaviors and were compensatedfor their time”.


So this is the chart of what can be considered the most addictive foods. Interestingly enough, results were slightly different. Pizza took the top spot and chocolate had to settle for second. Chips, cookies and ice cream come closely after. Breakfast cereal dropped significantly, and the least popular food is… the cucumber.

I was surprised to find bananas close to the bottom of the list, even under water. But what’s really the takeaway here is that virtually all the addictive foods are processed.

“In summary, the current study found that highly processed foods, with added amounts of fat and/or refined carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, white flour), were most likely to be associated with behavioral indicators of addictive-like eating. Additionally, foods with high GL were especially related to addictive-like eating problems for individuals endorsing elevated symptoms of “food addiction.” Individuals endorsing symptoms of addictive-like eating behavior may be more susceptible to the large blood sugar spike of high GL foods, which is consistent with the importance of dose and rate of absorption in the addictive potential of drugs of abuse,” the study concludes.