The scoop on ice cream
Here’s a sweet account of everyone’s favorite dessert!
We Americans eat more than 1.74 billion gallons of ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sherbet every year—or about 14 quarts per person. That’s a lot of frozen fat and sugar. Not that I’m maligning ice cream—who doesn’t love it? But how did it come to be one of the most beloved confections of the 21st century, surpassing even chocolate-chip cookies?
The story of the first ice cream cone is fairly well known. The popular version has it originating at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, when a Syrian immigrant rolled a zalabia—a waffle-like pastry—into a cone for a neighboring ice cream vendor who had run out of serving bowls. A probably more factual account suggests that Italo Marciony, an Italian ice maker, first sold ice cream cones in 1896 from a pushcart in New York, making them on a cone-shaped waffle iron for which he held a patent.
Some accounts claim that Marco Polo saw ice cream being manufactured on his travels to China in the late 11th century. Others say iced dairy products from a variety of critters—including horse, yak, camel, and buffalo—showed up as early as the seventh century, during the Tang Dynasty in China. One story says Catherine de Medici and her chefs carried the procedure to France when she journeyed there to marry the Duc d’Orleans. Charles I of England is also said to have rewarded his personal ice cream maker with a lifetime pension, provided he kept the recipe confidential—thus ensuring that ice cream would remain a strictly royal dish.
They’re romantic notions, but probably not true. More likely, the invention of ice cream paralleled discoveries—some as early as the fourth century—that adding salt to water, snow, or ice produced an extreme cooling effect. The earliest reference to ice cream in the New World was in 1744 in a journal entry describing a dinner party at the home of Thomas Bladen, then-governor of Maryland. The first ice cream machine was developed by Nancy Johnson, a Philadelphia housewife, in the 1840s, and commercial production of ice cream started in Baltimore, in 1851.
The original ice creams were simple but heady confections of cream, eggs, and sugar; this was, of course, long before we were troubled by the deleterious effects of these ingredients. In the 1980s, low-fat ice creams began to show up on grocers’ shelves; this was a truly troubling chapter in our history of food, and one that ushered in all manner of ice cream imposters: sugar-free, low-carb, zero-fat, and other horrifying inventions. Most of these, of course, also include artificial flavorings and colorings, rendering a once-simple dish made up of three or four food ingredients—milk, sugar, egg yolks, and a little fruit, vanilla bean, or chocolate—into what amounts to a frozen chemical soup.
Once some of us realized that the artificial ingredients in these ice creams would probably kill us faster than the sugar and fat, we began to demand better alternatives. Which brings us to the present. Ice cream lovers can enjoy an impressive variety of frozen confections, ranging from organic goat’s milk ice cream to dairy-free coconut milk to frozen açaí fruit bars to organic versions of the classic Dove bar.
Product Examples: As for the ice cream itself, most still use some derivation of cane sugar, but skip the eggs and substitute skim milk for some of the heavy cream. And most of the selections you’ll find on your natural grocer’s freezer shelves are either organic or made from milk that’s free of added growth hormones. Some of my favorites, with the scoop on each one:
|Julie’s Organic Caramel Ice Cream. The scoop: it’s made with only seven ingredients; no low-fat options here, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but it’s all organic.|
|Green & Black’s Organic White Chocolate with Strawberries Ice Cream. The scoop: contains egg yolks, in the traditional way; it’s also made by chocolate people, so you have to think they must know their white chocolate as well.|
|LaLoo’s Black Mission Fig Goat’s Milk Ice Cream. The scoop: it’s a good alternative to cows’ milk for some people with sensitivities; made with goat’s milk, figs, egg yolks, and not a lot more.|
|Stonyfield Gotta Have Java Frozen Organic Yogurt. The scoop: lower in fat, sweetened with natural ingredients, contains probiotic cultures, and rich in coffee flavor; not bad for a dessert.|
|Ben & Jerry’s FroYo Cherry Garcia Frozen Yogurt. The scoop: it’s lower in fat than the other varieties, with no shortage on flavor. This one’s not organic, but a few organic varieties are available, and Ben & Jerry’s was first with the no-rBGH label claim.|
|PJ Madison’s Organic Bourbon Vanilla Gelato-Style Ice Cream. The scoop: an all-organic version of gelato, with a nice, short ingredient list. Like all gelatos, it’s naturally lower in fat as well.|
|Purely Decadent Cookie Dough. The scoop: it’s dairy- and soy-free, made from coconut milk, and the cookies are gluten-free; that’s serious attention to detail.|
|NadaMoo! Lotta Mint Chip. The scoop: it’s all organic, made from coconut milk, agave nectar, and a short list of recognizable food ingredients.|
|Natural Choice Organic Blueberry Sorbet. The scoop: made from organic blueberries, purified water, organic evaporated cane juice, and a couple of thickeners; that’s it.|
|Sambazon Organic Açaí Sorbet. The scoop: organic açaí purée is the first ingredient, followed by only a few more; nice and simple.|