Who invented Ice Cream?

Summer is here. The best time of the year to eat ice cream, don’t you think? Of course, nowadays, we eat ice cream whenever we want. It’s easy to always have some at home, but it was not always the case. In fact, the first electrical refrigerator for home use was invented in 1913, but ice cream existed long before that—even if it was mostly flavored ice.

Who First Created Ice Cream?

The legend says that Marco Polo was introduced to ice cream during his time in the court of the Chinese emperor, Kublai Khan, and took the recipe back with him to Italy. It seems that ice cream has been made in China as long ago as 3000 BC.

In Europe, ice cream was first introduced in Italy, then in France in the 16th century. It’s said that Catherine de Medici and her Florentine confectioners were the ones who introduced it in France. But who really imported the original recipe of Ice Cream in Italy? The recipe Marco Polo brought back was possibly not the first one (and there is always doubt with everything Marco Polo). The Persian Empire developed it (it was more of the sorbet variety than of the cream one) around 500 B.C. and it made its way to Ancient Rome where only rich people could enjoy it because the ice was a luxury—runners carried ice from mountains to big Roman cities during summers (the ice which was flavored with juice and fruits). The recipe changed, China contributed as well as Arab countries.

So, who really invented ice cream? Impossible to know with certainty. The history of ice cream is full of myths, but a lot of them are about Italy.

What we know is that the first print occurrence of the word “iced cream” appeared in 1688 (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) and that Abraham Hayward helped to popularize the part played by Catherine de Medici in the history of ice cream with his book The Art of Dining, published in 1852—he picked up the story during his time in France.

In the United States of America, the first ice cream recipe was published in “The New Art of Cookery, According to the Present Practice” by Richard Briggs (1792), according to food historian Karen Hess. It was vanilla ice cream. There also are accounts of ice cream being served in the American colonies by Scottish travelers as early as 1744. For a time, it was said that Thomas Jefferson may have been the one who brought back the recipe in America after a stay in France, but it has clearly been disproved since. He certainly had a recipe and loved ice cream so much that he had an ice house built at the White House (and at his mansion Monticello), which he filled with ice from the Rivanna River each winter.

Jefferson was not the only Ice Cream lover who occupied the White House. Allegedly, President George Washington spent $200 on ice cream in the summer of 1790. Also, Dolly Madison, the wife of U.S. President James Madison, served ice cream at the Presidential Inaugural Ball of 1813.

In New York, the first Ice Cream Parlor opened in the 1770s. It is not known which one was the first, Philip Lenzi, a confectioner from London, or Giovanni Bosio. Like everything in the history of ice cream, there’s a lack of definitive proof.


Ice cream is a serious business, but not to the extremes it reached in 1649 when the Chef of Charles I of England was beheaded because of it. He had promised the king to keep his ice cream recipe secret. When the famous recipe started circulating in the public, the Chef had to pay for breaking his oath.


What about Philadelphia ice cream?

Unlike French ice cream which is cooked and contains whole eggs, Philadelphia-style ice cream is uncooked and does not contain whole eggs, though it sometimes contains egg whites. It’s a different kind of ice cream, it’s the American ice cream in a way—even if it was not really invented in America, these forms of ice cream have been around since the 13th century.

It was certainly popularized in Philadelphia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in the rest of the country after the great exposition of 1876. Restaurateur James Wood Parkinson is renowned for his role in elevating the place of ice cream in American cuisine (and for his Thousand Dollar Dinner), but it’s his mother Eleanor who opened the gates. More precisely, she opened her confectionery and ice-cream shop in 1818 next to her husband’s tavern. She also wrote the book The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker (published in 1844 and full of ice cream recipes). Before her, Joseph Delacroix advertised in 1784 that he sold ice cream, but what kind? At that time, Monsieur Collot (or Collet?), a French confectioner, a creole from San Domingo, was also famous for the quality of his ice cream, his Parisian Ice Cream…

The American Ice Cream became popular in the rest of the world with the Allied troops in Europe in 1939. Mass production of the frozen dessert was sent to boost their morale, and everybody loved it. For a short period of time, the world thought of ice cream as an American invention.

The short answer

People have been eating ice desserts for a long time now. Recipes evolved, privileges eroded, ice became cheap, and then ice cream became popular. Who thought of ice cream first? We’ll never know. One sure thing is we will continue to enjoy eating ice cream for a long time, our ignorance will not take this away from us.

And now, do you want to know who invented the pizza? or maybe Nutella, peanut butter, and Parmesan Cheese.

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