We love our ice cream in America! In any two week period, 40% of us will eat some, and the average person in the United States ends up eating ice cream about 28.5 times a year. A whopping 90% of American households eat ice cream regularly, and we produce 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt and other kinds of frozen treats every year (the majority of it in June). Whether you like your dessert in paper ice cream cups, waffle cones, or slathered over brownies, here’s all you ever wanted to know about the amazing history of just about our favorite dessert:
- We’ve been making ice cream for a very long time. The ice cream cone and paper ice cream cups are a recent invention, but sweet creamy treats were being eaten 2,500 years ago in Persia and in China. Of course, what the Persians were eating didn’t have any dairy in it, being just sweetened ice with toppings and fruit. The Chinese froze a mixture of milk and rice using snow, but it wasn’t very sweet. A frozen treat similar to the Persian version was also popular in Greece and Rome, but with the fall of the Roman Empire it became too expensive to organize the transport of ice and most people in the world never ate any.
- When did ice cream with dairy come about? Ice cream like we know it wasn’t in fashion until the 1600s. It was the French, specifically the court of Charles I, who started eating it in quantity. The love of ice cream spread around Europe among the ruling class, and King Charles I–this time of England–is said to have offered his court chef an enormous amount of money to keep the recipe for ice cream a special secret.
- How did the ice cream sundae get that weird name? In the late 1800s, ice cream sodas had become wildly popular in some places in the United States. Church leaders didn’t want people rushing off to the soda fountains for ice cream sodas on Sunday, so they were banned from sale on that day. Innovative sellers got around the ban by replacing the soda with different syrups–most notably chocolate–and calling it the “Ice Cream Sunday.” To avoid upsetting anyone, they changed the spelling to sundae.
- What’s the most popular flavor? There are thousands of flavors for us to be putting in our paper ice cream cups and eating with those wonderful colored spoons. There are old standbys like chocolate and strawberry, sophisticated standards like mint chocolate chip and pecan swirl, and loaded American joys like chocolate chip cookie dough, salted caramel pretzel, and peanut butter swirl. There are even totally bizarre flavors like wasabi, licorice, and candied bacon. But with all that incredible variety, the most popular single flavor is consistently the same: vanilla. Maybe it’s because vanilla is the most forgiving when it comes to weird toppings!
- What is an ice cream headache? Otherwise known as a brain freeze, this is what happens when we scoop up ice cream sundaes with just a bit too much gusto. What’s happening is that the cold ice cream touches a nerve center at the roof of your mouth, causing the blood vessels in your brain to dilate suddenly. This causes instant pain, which normally lasts for about 40 seconds. Coolest of all? Cats get it too.
If these facts didn’t make you hungry for some of these desserts, nothing will. Grab a spoon, pick up some paper ice cream cups, some friends, and a couple gallons of the good stuff and make it a great night with ice cream.