You may not know it, but the 19th of July is world ice cream day! So to celebrate, let’s get the scoop (!) on one of the world’s most popular sweet treats.
The Romans were known to mix ice or snow, which had been collected from the mountains, with fruit and fruit juices to create a flavoured dessert. Whilst the Roman’s version isn’t quite the product that we know today, many people across the world still enjoy similar shaved ice treats today.
The first ice cream-like food was developed in 7th century China where King Tang of Shang was known to eat an iced dessert made with buffalo milk, flour, and camphor. The Italian explorer Marco Polo is credited with taking this concept to Italy, where ice cream as we know it today was developed.
Up until the late 19th century, ice cream in Victorian-era England was sold in the form of the ‘penny lick’. As the name implies, a single scoop was served, in a small ceramic or glass bowl, which could be bought for a penny. Consumers would lick the bowl clean before returning it to the vendor who would give the bowl a quick wash before using the bowl to serve the next customer. Clearly this wasn’t hygienic and, due to the spread of diseases such as cholera, the penny lick was banned in 1898.
In response to the banning of the penny lick, ice cream makers and vendors set to work creating an edible container. The first to patent an idea was an Italian immigrant living in Manchester, Antonio Valvona, who developed a waffle tub in 1902. Conical serving bowls were finally invented in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair in Missouri. A vendor at the fair had run out of bowls and so, to help him out, a neighbouring stallholder and waffle maker, Ernest E. Hamwi, used his waffle batter to create the first cone.
Street vendors had been selling ice cream out of trucks and carts for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1962 that the van as we know it today was invented. Cheshire-based refrigeration engineer Bryan Whitby developed machines that were powered by the van engine, meaning that the vans weighed less and could keep iced desserts colder for longer. The same technology is used in most vans today.