5.9.07

The History of Ice Cream: The Early Days


Tracing the early days in the "history of ice cream" takes us as far back as 3000BC, when it is thought that ice cream could have been invented. Although this would not be the sort of ice cream we’d recognise today, the Chinese people were reported to have made some kind of iced products, possibly similar to what we know as sorbet, thousands of years before refrigeration was even dreamed of.


While there is little evidence to back up this theory, it is thought that the method of making these original iced desserts was based on a syrup substance, brought to freezing point with the help of a salt compound. Saltpetre – or potassium nitrate – reduces the temperature of water (or snow in this case), by drawing heat as the salt dissolves.

Moving on a few centuries (336-323 BC), Alexander The Great, the King of Macedonia, features in the origins of ice cream. He was apparently known to have a passion for honey-flavoured iced drinks, using snow to make the icy texture. In AD 54, Emperor Nero of Rome liked his iced desserts too.


His slaves collected snow and mixed it with fruit or wine to concoct an early ice cream-like treat. The "history of ice cream" goes back to China again, to the 7th Century AD and and King Tang of Shang. While it’s not likely that he invented or even made his own food, his minnions would have mixed up buffalo milk, camphor and flour to serve up a not too tasty sounding version of ice cream!

The early "history of ice cream" would not be legendary without the mention of the Italians. Marco Polo, the renowned Italian explorer, had spent some 17 years in China in the latter part of the 13th Century. Unsubstantiated claims that he brought ice cream to Italy originate from a theory that he discovered some sort of recipe for a milk-based iced product during his time there. It was not, however, until the 17th Century that the more familiar appearance of the ice cream we’d recognise today began to emerge.

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