From Royal Table to Summer Staple: Ice Cream’s Sweet Journey

Various flavor of popsiclesIce cream is an American summer staple. It’s a sweet way to cool off from the heat, after all. And it’s everywhere — anybody can buy it from a roaming ice cream truck or a convenience store.

However, it wasn’t always as accessible. Ice cream was once only available to royalty.

Ice Cream in Europe

Nobody can say for sure who invented this sweet treat, but there are records which claim that Alexander the Great ate snow flavored with honey and nectar. The Roman Emperor Nero also supposedly ate ice flavored with fruits and juices.

According to, a manufacturer of artisan gelato, sorbet, and ice cream in Utah, the modern ice cream has a milk, cream, and sugar base. But the earliest ice-cream-like-food on record was a frozen milk-and-rice mixture eaten in China in 200 BC.

The Emperors of the Tang Dynasty, who lived 618-907 AD, also ate a frozen-like milk concoction that was made with cow, goat, or buffalo milk, heated with flour and flavored with camphor.

Ice cream reached Europe when Marco Polo, an Italian explorer, returned home with a sherbet-like recipe from the Far East. The recipe evolved into the ice cream we know today.

Called “cream ice,” it was popular among the aristocracy. According to rumors, Charles I of England loved it so much that he bribed his chef to keep his recipe a secret from the rest of England.

But ice cream wasn’t exclusive to royalty for long. In 1686, Procopio dei Coltelli opened Paris’s first café, Café Procope, which served ice cream to the European public.

Ice Cream in America

Ice cream reached America through European settlers in the 1700s. Its earliest record was a 1744 letter from a guest of William Bladen, then governor of Maryland.

Americans loved the recipe. In fact, George Washington spent $200 on ice cream in the summer of 1790. Thomas Jefferson also has his own 18-step ice cream delicacy.

Like in Europe, only the elite enjoyed the dessert — but that changed when the first insulated ice houses were introduced. Jacob Fussell, a Baltimore milk dealer, pioneered the ice cream industry in 1851.

Today, the United States produces more than a billion gallons of ice cream. Although ice cream contributes billions of dollars to the economy and creates more than 180,000 jobs, it’s still appreciated for simple joy it brings: the bright smiles all over American citizens on a hot summer day.