Ice Cream July 1, 2002

Sweet History
The lowfat years are over, at least when it comes to America's love for ice cream. With premium and super-premium brands pushing aside ice milk and sherbets in the supermarket freezers, consumers are making their decisions based on their tastes, not their waists. Demand for low fat treats has plummeted by 12% since 1995 as Americans clamor after premium ice creams.

No matter whether the recipe is lowfat or not, people have always hungered for sweet treats like ice cream. No one can say for certain where ice cream started. Some ice cream historians say that as early as A.D. 54, the Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar would send his slaves to the mountaintops to gather snow. The slaves would then hurry back down to the city before the snow melted and mix the snow with juice, honey, or wine. These sweet ices were savored only by Nero and the ruling class, who hoarded this delicacy from the masses.

It seems that ice cream continued to be a privilege of the elite for centuries due to the difficulty in obtaining both ice and sugar. In 1271, the famous explorer Marco Polo traveled to China, where he discovered desserts made of milk and ice, similar to the sherbets of today. He recorded the recipes in his journal and brought them back to his homeland of Italy, where they continued to be served only to the wealthy. Stories say that the Italian Catherine de Medici brought ice cream to France when she married Henry II in 1553. And ice cream appeared regularly at the table of England's Charles I during the 1600s

Not long thereafter, ice cream reached the New World. Historical records show that ice cream was served to a guest of Maryland's governor in the year 1700. In 1777, an advertisement appeared in the New York Gazette announcing that a New York confections shop would be serving ice cream "almost every day." During the summer of 1790, President George Washington spent $200 on his ice cream.

Brain Freeze
It's a hot day and you need to eat or drink something cold to cool off... and fast! But, as you gulp down what should be chilly relief... pain! You've just gotten a brain freeze.

At least one-third of people experience the phenomenon of a "brain freeze" headache. The pain peaks about 30 to 60 seconds after rapidly eating or drinking something very cold and then goes away a minute or so later.

Brain freeze seems to happen when something cold is touching the roof of your mouth, stimulating a nerve center to heat up your brain, causing the headache. So, try to keep that Slush Puppie away from the roof of your mouth!

Recipe for Success
Beyond the lack of ice and sugar, ice cream was often difficult to make. In the early 1800s, people put their ice cream mixture into a bowl that was in turn placed inside a bucket lined with ice and salt. The salt helped the mixture freeze faster than it would with just ice. The whole contraption had to be shaken by hand, which was very tiring.

Nancy Johnson helped relieve people's arm muscles somewhat by inventing the hand-cranked ice cream freezer in 1846. Her invention, which is still in use, features a crank that turns a paddle inside the pail so that the ice cream mix is stirred evenly while it freezes.

Once ice cream had become a bit easier to make, people began getting more creative with flavors. During the 1800s, ice cream was primarily chocolate or fruit flavored. Other early experiments led to concoctions such as root beer and ginger-flavored ice creams.

By the early 1900s, ice cream was no longer made by hand. Thanks to steam power and electricity, ice cream began to be produced — and eaten — in mass quantities. Today, Americans are by far the greatest consumers of the sweet treat, rivaled only by New Zealand. On average, Americans eat 5.7 gallons of ice cream every year.

Year Million gallons of ice cream produced in US per year
1899 5 million
1909 30 million
1919 150 million
1986 800 million
2000 1650 million
  • How many times greater was production in 1986 than in 1899? In 2000 than in 1986?

  • What was the average increase in production per year between 1909 and 1919?

  • What was the average increase in production per year between 1919 and 2000?

Quiescent What?
There are several major types of frozen dessert. Do you know the difference?

Ice cream is a frozen mixture of milk, nonfat milk, sweeteners, and flavoring. Ice cream must contain at least 10% milkfat. Premium ice cream may contain as much as 16% milkfat.

Ice milk is like ice cream, but with only 2 to 7% milkfat. Sherbet also contains milk, but has only 1 to 2% milkfat. Sorbet contains no milk and is most often fruit-flavored.

A quiescently frozen confection is the basic ice pop — a sweet, frozen bar of juice or flavored water on a birch stick.

Best Job in the World?
Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry still reign as America's favorite ice cream flavors. During the 1800s, ice cream was primarily chocolate or fruit flavored. Early experimentations led to concoctions such as root beer, ginger, lemon, and cherry.

Of course, new ice cream flavors are being developed all the time. Riverdeep spoke with John Shaffer, a flavor developer at Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury, Vermont.

Q: How much of your job is devoted to developing new flavors?
A: About 60% to 70%.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration?
A: Sometimes we find an interesting ingredient and try to build an ice cream flavor around it. Kids like Gummi Worms. We found a vendor who could keep the worms fairly chewable (despite being frozen), and we built a flavor around it—Worms in Dirt.

We're encouraged to go out to eat a lot by our boss. Developers order every dessert on the menu. On a trip to South Florida, we sampled a total of 123 desserts in 5 days. We keep an eye out for trends. We take trips to the supermarket and see what people are snacking on. We each develop about 30 flavors each year, and then the group sits around and critiques them. The end result is quite a bit different than the original idea.

Q: How much ice cream do you eat?
A: By 9 a.m., I might have tasted a dozen different flavors. You have to be careful or by 2 p.m. you'll be wanting to take a nap. I certainly don't eat any when I get home. Ben & Jerry's employees are allowed to take home three pints a day. The people in Research and Development don't take advantage of that as much as people in other departments.
Q: Do people think that you have the best job in the world?
A: I can be talking with someone with a very prestigious job. But once people find out what I do, all of a sudden, all the attention turns to me. The doctors and lawyers get left out of the conversation.
Q: What are your favorite flavors?
A: Nutty Waffle Cone and Orange and Cream. But that could all change when the new flavors are released.

Waffle, Sugar, or Wafer
There are several accounts of how the ice cream cone was invented. Italo Marchiony, an Italian immigrant, patented his ice cream cone in New York City in 1903. But it the ice cream cone became a hot seller when it was invented again by Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant selling waffles next to an ice cream vendor at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. When the ice cream vendor ran out of dishes, Hamwi suggested rolling up waffles in a cornucopia shape and putting ice cream into those. The rest, as they say, is history.

A Matter of Taste
Not every new ice cream flavor is destined for greatness. At Ohio State University, people have developed such odd and unmarketable flavors as sauerkraut sherbet, potatoes-and-bacon ice cream, squash ice cream, and mustard ice cream. Sometimes weird flavors do reach the market. Baskin-Robbins once offered flavors called brassicaceous beer (root beer and horseradish) and chile con carne. And other times, flavors stop selling and are no longer produced, ending up in what Ben & Jerry's calls their flavor graveyard.

  • What original ice cream flavor would you like to create? What would be the flavors or ingredients in your ice cream? What would be the flavor's catchy product name?

  • Did you know that some of Ben & Jerry 's bestselling flavors were suggested by customers? Suggestions sent by ice cream fans led to the creation of Cherry Garcia, Chubby Hubby, and Chunky Monkey. Send your ice cream idea to Ben & Jerry's for the chance to win free ice cream!

No matter which flavor is your favorite, there's little doubt that you and your friends will be eating ice cream this summer, this fall, this winter and next spring. Whether it's your grandparents' memories of ice cream sodas at the local drugstore soda fountain, or your parents' memories of the ice cream truck calliope in July, or your own memories of your first double-dip cone, ice cream is part of the American culinary culture.

Enjoy your summer, America! And pass the Phish Food.


Related Activities
Calculating Volume & Area
How much ice cream in a cone versus a cylindrical package? Look to Destination Math for more info.
Summer Fitness
Find out how to stay fit when you're not eating ice cream in this Riverdeep Current article.
Hardened Arteries
Too much fat in your ice cream could cause health problems. Find out more in this Biology Explorer activity.