“I scream. You scream. We all scream for Muzqaymoq!” The language of ice cream may not be international, but humans’ undying love of this summertime-gloop is as global as taxes, death and refrigerators.
An article from David – localiser, philosopher and Berliner.
I’m a stracciatella guy, by the way – one scoop – in a cone – no sprinkles! Like many sweet-toothed peers, it was one of my first words – right after mum and dog. Invented in Bergamo, Italy in 1962, my favourite flavour has a well-defined origin. But where does the rest of it come from?
As with everything in this world, the research on the origins of ice cream is fraught with competing national myths, claims and legends. Was it Chinese sorbet or Persian bastani that first brought a gluttonous sparkle to a childs eye?
Who invented the first ice cream?
There are tomes of dusty records telling us how pastry chefs mixed snow and syrup across the ancient world. There were ice houses in Mesopotamia (4000 BCE), crushed ice dealers in downtown Athens (500 BCE), and even Emperor Nero liked to cool those fiery Roman summer evenings with a chilled sorbet treat. Snow + sugar + syrup = a delicious iced treat. A real no-brainer.
The real sciency innovation came about when chefs in Central Asia figured out that salt could be used to create an endothermic process and chill food. Shazam! Chilled bastani sonnati from Persia was the magical beginnings of what we now call ice cream. Legend has it that, along with a few packets of pasta, Marco Polo himself brought the recipe back to the Italic Peninsula—thus giving birth to Italian gelato.
A few centuries later, the Northern European elite caught onto endothermic ice cream production in the 16th century. Thanks to refrigerator, however, now everybody on the continent can get their creamy ice on. In 2019 alone, Germany produced 635 million litres of ice cream (21% of the EU’s production). Italy produced 554 million litres (18% of the EU’s production) that same year and France came close third with 451 million litres or 15% of the EU’s production. Just think of all those yummy cones.
Across the Atlantic, Americans produce over 5 billion litres of ice cream and frozen yoghurt per year. But it’s in China where the most ice cream is produced. Already back in 2014, China was consuming 5.9 billion litres of ice cream per year, making the Northern Hemisphere the place to be for unmitigated ice cream gluttons like myself.
How global is your favourite flavour?
The globalisation (or dessertification?) of the world, means you can buy cookies, strawberry cheesecake or salted-caramel flavoured ice creams from the big brands almost anywhere in the world. But people in different parts of the world still maintain sprinkles of regional difference when it comes to scoops of ice cream. Whereas the Germans prefer good old chocolate, Mexicans and Argentinians lap up the rich excesses of fior di latte. While Persians are still loving their bastani with pistachio and saffron, in India, kulfi lovers like to cool down with mango, rose or cardamon flavours.
There are of course an infinite number of bespoke, niche and, quite frankly, bizarre flavours out there—raw horse flesh or cow’s tongue flavour ice cream being two Japanese variants I hope I never encounter.
Whether your favourite ice cream is English, German, French, Spanish, Iranian or Indian, you can enjoy your dessert happy in the knowledge that ice cream is a truly multicultural phenomena over which humans would much rather smile than argue.
Just don’t ask me to share my stracciatella, ever.