The History of Ice Cream

Silvia Marchetti wrote . . . . . . . . .

From sticky cones of vanilla and chocolate to elegant scoops of exotic fruit sorbet, the globally relished treat of ice cream has origins that can be traced to Mesopotamia – an ancient region that corresponds to today’s Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey – as far back as 1200BC.

It is believed that ice cream as the world knows it now was an Italian creation – yet a 12th century Chinese ode, written by poet Yang Wanli in praise of an icy, crunchy refreshment that “appears congealed and yet it seems to float”, suggests something similar was being enjoyed in China as early as the ninth century.

The Chinese built pits to preserve the ice for cool summer drinks, says Luciana Polliotti, head of the Gelato Museum in the Italian city of Bologna and an ice cream historian.

“The Silk Road was dotted with thousands of snow huts, snow pits and ice storage rooms built to preserve these precious and miraculous products of nature, where travellers and merchants would stop to refresh themselves with delicious iced juices,” she explains.

The first type of ice cream product had a watery consistency and was more of a slush than a paste-like flavoured cream, according to the museum.

“At the beginning it was just a frozen, refreshing drink to savour and enjoy, especially in the hot summer months,” Polliotti says.

“The gastronomic use of ice and snow, and the art of mixing ice with fruit juice, honey, herbs, seeds and flowers, is as old as man himself, and it is impossible to say which country first invented a rudimentary form of ice cream. Iced drinks have been a sweet treat invented across the world, both in the Mediterranean region and Asia, and they quickly became a lifestyle trend.”

All ancient civilisations, it seems, loved frozen “cocktails” and were ready to travel far and wide to fetch snow from high on mountain peaks and store it in pits. Ruins of such structures have been recovered by archaeologists in all corners of the world.

In Mesopotamia, imperial dispatch runners walked hundreds of kilometres to find the snow and ice necessary to cool drinks served at royal banquets, while Greek ruler Alexander the Great was apparently a big fan of ancient ice cream.

“Wherever he went, as he conquered foreign countries and his empire spread, Alexander would build ice houses and he made the iced drinks culture flourish,” says Polliotti, adding that the ancient Romans’ lavish feasts often featured “snow fountains” decorated with gold and silver, used to mix ice with sweet wine and honey.

The Gelato Museum is dedicated to the understanding and study of the history, culture, technology and know-how behind the production of gelato – meaning “ice cream” in Italian. It has an interactive tour where more than 20 original ice cream machines and rudimentary coolers from the 1600s are displayed, alongside 10,000 historical images and documents, precious tools and accessories.

There are hundreds of ancient recipes, with oddities such as ice cream made with bread, red cinnamon, violets, rose buds, fennel seeds, grapes, oregano, truffle and jasmine flowers, and different kinds of milk – sheep, goat, mule, cow – each with their own supposed healing properties.

“We did thorough research and went looking for sources, historical documents and objects; we’ve put together a comprehensive archive that sheds light into the marvel of such exquisite and fascinating food which has little-known origins,” Polliotti says.

Museum visitors are also treated to ice cream tasting sessions where they can try original old recipes and compare the results with modern ice cream.

According to the museum, Arabs invented their own sugary frosted drink known as shrb (sorbet) in the 11th century. A syrup or tisane made with healing herbs, spices, roots and flowers was put in a container that was then buried underneath ice. They exported it to all lands they conquered, including Sicily, where more than 400 different types of flowers were grown to flavour sorbets.

“It was an important evolutionary step: the container was a first form of natural freezer. There no longer was any direct contact between the ice and the flavoured drink,” Polliotti says.

But Salvatore Farina, head of Sicily’s Duciezio academy of top Sicilian pastry makers and artisan ice cream masters, says that the Arab shrb actually has Sicilian roots.

“I am proud to have found an historical document by Roman writer Marco Terenzio Varrone that clearly states how the Arab word was taken from the Latin verb sorbere, meaning to ‘slowly and leisurely sip’ a frozen drink,” he says. “In olden times, sorbet was served inside the thermopolia – ancient Roman snack bars.”

Sicily is today considered a kingdom of artisan ice cream and pastry, where chefs still make the treat widely regarded as Italy’s best granita – a hybrid of ice-cream and a slushee, thought to be the direct predecessor of modern gelato.

A dense mixture of sugar, water and ice, granita is blended with pistachios, toasted almonds or the best of Sicily’s seasonal fruit such as mandarins, lemons and figs.

The granita cult can be traced back to Sicily’s so-called nivaroli, the “ice collectors”, who climbed mountains to collect ice and transport it downhill to coastal towns on the back of donkeys, Farina says. A favoured collection spot was Mount Etna, Europe’s biggest volcano.

Deep pits were dug into the volcano’s sides to preserve ice blocks beneath layers of straw, leaves and branches as in a sort of natural fridge for the summer months, when the ice was sold to make granita.

Sicilian noble families paid the nivaroli to regularly fetch them chunks of ice. Grated and mixed with fruit, it was savoured in the shade of elaborate courtyards.

Iced drinks, sorbets and ice cream were initially an elite food, a status symbol used to flaunt wealth at elaborate banquets. These sweet treats were restricted to emperors, royal courts, aristocrats, monasteries visited by rich pilgrims, and to the Holy See, Polliotti says.

“It was a food for the rich, and it was also considered healthy, refreshing and pleasant,” she says. “It was a luxury that the poor not only couldn’t afford, but never tasted.”

The real turning point in the history of ice cream came during the Renaissance, when the frozen drink stopped being just a plain icy liquid concoction and became the modern, paste-like gelato now loved around the world.

“It happened in the 1500s to 1600s at the Florentine court, when for the first time ever structured ingredients such as eggs, milk, sugar and even wine were added to the ice, making it more dense and mellow,” Polliotti says.

“This triggered a revolution and changed the production process. These ingredients were first cooked together and then frozen. Gelato was born, and it’s a more complex food.”

Poets and ambassadors started hailing this new and expensive product, Polliotti says. “It’s the milk that differentiates sorbet from ice-cream, which being a fat product requires lower temperatures to freeze, together with the addition of salt in the manufacturing process that optimised the gelato.”

It is thought Italian queen Caterina de’ Medici (who later married a French king) and Cosimo Ruggieri, a noted alchemist and astrologist, took the new recipe to Paris, where chef Francesco Procopio Cutò later opened history’s first artisan pastry shop. He served Italian gelato to Parisian intellectuals and the middle classes, spreading its fame worldwide.

Ice cream was no longer a food restricted to the elite, though its full “democratisation” and the multiplicity of flavours and shapes only came about in the 1800s, when the first automatic gelato machine appeared. A single person could use the machine and make ice cream; before automation, it took four people to make 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of gelato.

The popular ice cream cone was invented and patented in 1903 by an Italian immigrant called Italo Marchioni, then living in New York, who worked out the best way to savour gelato while strolling along the street.

Polliotti says these fragments of history prove that the origins of real ice cream are Italian. “Even though nobody in particular invented the first iced drink in history, what we enjoy today as ice cream, or gelato, for dessert, a snack or meal, is a sublime made-in-Italy product”.

Source: SCMP

Beef with Peppers and Black Bean Sauce


1-1/2 lb beef top round steak, trimmed
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup oil

Black Bean Sauce

1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon salted, fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 green bell pepper, shredded
1 red bell pepper, shredded
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, shredded
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
1 teaspoon sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons chicken stock


  1. Cut the beef against the grain into very thin slices. Cut each slice of beef into thin strips and place in a bowl. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water, toss lightly to combine, then marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes. Drain the beef.
  2. Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and heat until almost smoking. Add a third of the beef and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until the pieces brown. Remove with a wire strainer or slotted spoon, then drain. Repeat with the remaining beef.
  3. To make the black bean sauce, heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and heat until very hot. Stir-fry the scallions, garlic, black beans and ginger for 10 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute, or until cooked.
  4. Combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, stock, sesame oil and cornstarch, add to the sauce and simmer until thickened.
  5. Add the beef and toss lightly to coat with the sauce. Remove to serving platter and serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: The Food of China

In Pictures: Foods of Amber Restaurant in Hong Kong

Modern French Cuisine

The 2020 Michelin 2-star Restaurant

Not Smoking and Being Socially Active Keys to Longevity

University of Otago researchers have discovered some of the secrets to longevity with new research revealing not smoking and being social engaged throughout older age are common traits of New Zealand centenarians.

Associate Professor Yoram Barak, a consultant psychogeriatrician, says the results show people can have some control over the ageing process.

“Electing not to smoke and committing to maintain social networking will be the best investment one can make towards successful ageing,” he says.

Being socially active means physically going out of your home and away from families and interacting with people whether that is visiting friends, volunteering or participating in activities such as attending a concert or playing golf, Professor Barak says.

Together with his colleague Professor Paul Glue, from the Department of Psychological Medicine, and Dr Sharon Leitch from the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Associate Professor Barak set out to investigate the variables associated with exceptionally healthy extreme old age.

“This is so we can make some recommendations to try and help people age well.”

The researchers examined data relating to 292 centenarians who were free of common chronic diseases such as diabetes, depression, dementia and hypertension. They also included information relating to a further 103,377 older people aged over 60. All of these people were living in private accommodation in the community and not in aged residential care.

Results showed social engagement of participants, whereby they are participating in social activities of long-standing interest was similar across all age groups.

Rates of depression and diabetes declined steadily with increasing age and rates of dementia declined after the age of 80. Hypertension rates increased by nearly 30 per cent from age 60 to 100 years.

There is evidence that exercise improves health and length of life but in this study most participants had a similar profile of physical activity and there was not sufficient spread of duration or intensity of physical activities to test the effects on ageing.

However, among those surveyed the highest physical activity groups were at the lowest risk of dementia.

As of 2011, there are estimated to be between 400 to 500 centenarians living in New Zealand. Of these, fewer than 40 would be aged over 105. The mean age of those interviewed in the study was 101.

The centenarians were more likely to be female (75 per cent) and in any age group, women were more likely to be free of the common chronic diseases outlined above.

“Women have a longer life expectancy and are therefore more likely to be represented in centenarian studies. However, after correcting for this advantage, men who do make it to 100 years of age are more likely to be free of common illnesses,” Associate Professor Barak says.

This study found higher rates of centenarians free of common chronic diseases in New Zealand than reported in other countries.

However, one explanation is that this survey considered only centenarians living in the community, who were likely to be in better health compared with those living in residential care or hospital settings.

Professor Barak explains the biopsychosocial foundations of remarkable health and longevity among centenarians is unclear. Genetic factors, certain geographical locations and life-style characteristics have all been studied in an effort to identify potential predisposing factors of exceptional longevity.

Source: University of Otago

Study: Sedentary Behavior Independently Predicts Cancer Mortality

In the first study to look at objective measures of sedentary behavior and cancer mortality, researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that greater inactivity was independently associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer. The most sedentary individuals had an 82% higher risk of cancer mortality compared to the least sedentary individuals. An accelerometer was used to measure physical activity, rather than relying on participants to self-report their activity levels.

“This is the first study that definitively shows a strong association between not moving and cancer death,” said Susan Gilchrist, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Cancer Prevention and lead author of the study, published today in JAMA Oncology. “Our findings show that the amount of time a person spends sitting prior to a cancer diagnosis is predictive of time to cancer death.”

Researchers also found that replacing 30 minutes of sedentary time with physical activity was associated with a 31% lower risk of cancer death for moderate-intensity activity, such as cycling, and an 8% lower risk of cancer death for light-intensity activity, such as walking.

“Conversations with my patients always begin with why they don’t have time to exercise,” said Gilchrist, who leads MD Anderson’s Healthy Heart Program. “I tell them to consider standing up for 5 minutes every hour at work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It might not sound like a lot, but this study tells us even light activity has cancer survival benefits.”

Study design

This study involved a cohort of participants from the nationally representative REGARDS study, which recruited more than 30,000 U.S. adults over the age of 45 between 2003 and 2007 to study long-term health outcomes.

To measure sedentary behavior, 8,002 REGARDS participants who did not have a cancer diagnosis at study enrollment wore an accelerometer on their hip during waking hours for seven consecutive days. The accelerometer data was gathered between 2009 and 2013. After a mean follow-up of 5 years, 268 participants died of cancer. Longer duration of sedentary behavior was independently associated with a greater risk of cancer death.

The study also found that engaging in either light or moderate to vigorous physical activity made a difference. Investigators assessed sedentary time, light-intensity physical activity (LIPA) and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in the same model and found that LIPA and MVPA, not sedentary behavior, remained significantly associated with cancer mortality.

“From a practical perspective, this means that individuals who replaced either 10 to 30 minutes of sedentary time with either LIPA or MVPA had a lower risk of cancer mortality in the REGARDS cohort,” Gilchrist said.

The study had several limitations, including a potentially healthier participant sample compared to the full REGARDS cohort and a lack of site-specific cancer data, including type of tumor and treatment.

“Our findings reinforce that it’s important to ‘sit less and move more’ and that incorporating 30 minutes of movement into your daily life can help reduce your risk of death from cancer,” Gilchrist said. “Our next step is to investigate how objectively measured sedentary behavior impacts site-specific cancer incidence and if gender and race play a role.”

Source: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

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