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19 March 2021

History and origins of ice cream: who invented it?

Trivia about the birth of ice cream and its invention

History of ice cream: where was it invented?

Handmade ice cream is undoubtedly the most famous Italian dessert in the world and around its birth and history numerous tales have been handed down over time, verging between fantasy and legend. Tracing the origin of ice cream is not easy, as there are many historical records and references to the ancient custom of preserving milk and food by freezing them. Several disputes have also arisen over the centuries to claim the frieze of the inventor of ice cream. The journey through time to discover the true history of handmade ice cream is therefore full of adventures and exciting surprises: let Cioccolatitaliani guide you and discover with us everything there is to know about the birth of ice cream and its invention!

Ice cream: the origins between history and legend

Early legends about the origin of ice cream tell of its ancestor already in the Bible, where Isaac used to give his father Abraham an iced drink with goat's milk and snow to help him fight the heat. The history of ice cream continues by recalling the ancient Roman custom, introduced at banquets by Nero, of enjoying fruit salads and fruit desserts with honey and snow during the warm season. The first historical documents in which ice cream is mentioned date back to the city of Athens in 500 BC, where the Greeks liked to make refreshing drinks with honey, lemon and pomegranate juice mixed with snow or ice.

History of Ice Cream in China: Frozen Milk

The custom of freezing and refrigerating fruit, milk and other dairy foods in order to preserve them seems to have ancient origins and goes back to customs and culture in Asian regions: it was in China that a mixture of milk and rice cooked with spices was already prepared around 2000 BC, which was then placed in snow to solidify. Later, during the Middle Ages, cold desserts made of milk and iced fruit juices also began to be produced, which were then imported to Europe by Marco Polo around the 14th century.

In Italy, ice cream originated in Sicily

The first appearances in the history in Italy of ice-cream-like drinks or frozen desserts occurred in Sicily and were the result of the Arab domination of our peninsula in the 9th century. These populations used to enjoy cold drinks, called sherbet, which were characterised by the use of distilled fruit juices flavoured with lemon, orange, pomegranate, cherry and tamarind. The Arabs of Sicily used snow from Mount Etna and the mountains in the area to freeze these drinks in containers, which were then sweetened with sugar cane imported from Persia. Thus it was in the lands of Sicily that the first ancestor of Italian handmade ice cream was born.

But who invented the ice cream we all know?

According to historical reconstructions by the Italian Ice Cream Institute, the invention of handmade ice cream is strongly linked to our territory and Italian cuisine and we have to wait until the Renaissance and the 16th century to witness its birth.

Ice cream was invented in Italy by architect Bernardo Buontalenti at the court of Catherine de' Medici in Florence.

He, in 1565, was the first to claim the invention of the world's best-loved Italian dessert, since he used most of the ice cream ingredients still in use today in the recipe for his delicious sorbets:

  • milk
  • cream
  • egg white
  • snow
  • salt
  • sugar
  • lemon

 A second important moment in the history of ice cream came later in 1686, when the Sicilian cook Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli created the first perfect mixture to make and package ice cream. Taking advantage of this discovery and a curious machine for making frozen sorbets given to him by his grandfather, the enterprising ice cream maker moved to Paris at the court of the Sun King, where he was able to open the historic Café Procope and make modern ice cream that was known throughout France and Europe.

Ice cream in the 1800s: the first ice cream maker

Continuing on our journey to discover the history of handmade ice cream, a turning point in its production occurred in the United States, where a woman named Nancy Johnson invented and patented, in September 1843, the first hand-cranked ice cream maker: it consisted of a tub filled with salt and ice, mechanised with a metal cylinder for the dough, which was then turned with a crank. After a couple of years, William Le Young took advantage of Johnson's financial difficulties and acquired the rights to his patent for a mere $200. It was the latter who initiated a revolutionary way of producing ice cream by attaching a motor to the tub and thus achieving an even cooling of the mixture. These technological introductions were later the starting point for the birth of the first automatic sorbet machine in the early 20th century.

The birth of the ice cream cone in 1900

The invention of the ice cream cone, on the other hand, took place at the dawn of the 20th century and there is much controversy as to who was the first to serve ice cream in a cone.

The inventor of the ice cream cone is Italian Italo Marchioni, a ice cream maker who was born in Cadore and emigrated overseas to New York.

 On 13 December 1903, he travelled to Washington to receive a US patent for a printing device for edible ice cream cups that he had developed. The birth of this forerunner of the ice cream cone was linked to the strong need to serve ice cream in glasses that were not made of paper or glass: the latter tended to break easily and were often not returned, leading to easily avoidable losses of money for Marchioni.

© United States Patent and Trademark Office

History of the ice cream cone: the first crunchy wafer

A second and later hypothesis concerning the birth of the ice cream cone tells of Syrian confectioner Ernst Hamwi, who, according to some reconstructions in the New York Times, was the first to serve ice cream in a crispy pastry, zalabia, baked in a wafer press. The opportunity came to him during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, when, to help an ice cream vendor in the next booth who had run out of ice cream dishes, he began to roll some of his crispy wafers into the shape of a cone and place his ice cream on them.

The story of Cioccolatitaliani tells of an Italian company and family that since 2009 has devoted itself with sweetness and passion to the art of mixing the world's best chocolate with ice cream, pastry and coffee. Discover our selection of ice creams and come and enjoy them in your nearest store!