Ice cream in one country is really nothing like ice cream in another, whether it is called frozen custard, snow cream, gelato, kulfi or just plain ice cream. It is always a frozen treat that seems to bring out the child in all of us.
— By John Jacobs
Ice cream is one of those treats that is universally loved in one form or another. Even those who do not like traditional milk–based ice cream can find plenty of options, like sorbet and gelato. Some items are generically called “ice cream” when they do not have cream in them, but do we really care?
Savor a nice cold spoonful of the delectable dessert in any form, and suddenly, life seems so good. The feeling of well-being a cold sweet food item delivers is really incomparable to anything else. The best news is you can enjoy variations that are low-fat, low-calorie, no sugar, if you want. The question is whether skimping on the real thing is really worth the shortcut every time you crave ice cream.
No, you should not eat it every day, but my … oh … my, sometimes only real ice cream or a real ice cream treat will work. The good news is that anywhere you travel, there will be ice cream.
From Iced Drink to Ice Cream
The Public Broadcasting System set the record straight as far as the history of ice cream. Ice cream is an ancient treat, though it did not look like anything we eat today.
First, humans had to figure out how to use ice for enjoyment. During Biblical times and ancient Greece, it was an iced drink. Nero came along around 68 BC and had his workers harvest ice from the mountains and store it in straw-covered pits, thus the birth of a form of refrigeration. Sometime between 618-907 AD, an emperor in the Tang Dynasty had a frozen concoction made with goat, cow or buffalo milk heated with flour, enhanced with flavoring, and placed in metal tubes that were sunk into an ice pool. The Arabs invented sharabt during Medieval Times, a chilled flavored drink, that European aristocracy adopted eventually. In the 17th century, ice drinks became frozen desserts like sorbet, made with sugar.
Then Antonio Latini, a man working for a Spanish Viceroy in Naples made a version that had milk – ice cream as we know it was born. In the late 1600s, a Sicilian named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli served gelato in Paris, and the French confectioner Nicolas Audiger created the frozen dessert fromage that ironically had no cheese in it. Likely it was immigrants from Europe who brought frozen treat recipes to America, and in 1790, the first ice cream parlor opened in New York.
Today, people around the world are eating ice cream and all the other forms of the sweet frozen drink – sherbet, frozen custard, gelato, sorbet and many more. Each country has made a version that is embedded in culture.
Around the World in a Cold Dessert
Kakigori is a Japanese treat that is made with shaved ice, hand-crafted syrup, and often evaporated or condensed milk.
India’s kulfi was first frozen in ice pools until refrigeration came along, and today is made with caramelized sweetened evaporated milk with added flavors like saffron and other ingredients like crushed almonds. Modern versions of this very sweet dessert also are now offered in a variety of flavors, like orange, mango, and chocolate. Kulfi is served like a popsicle, and because of its density, takes longer to melt.
In Ecuador, you will find helado de paila (ice cream in a pot) which is a cultural food gem. Recipes are often passed down from generation to generation, and it is made like a sorbet or is custard-like, depending on the ingredients. The paila is a traditional cooking pot made of copper or bronze. The pot is often handed down, along with the recipes, adding memories to the ice cream. It is placed on top of ice and a liquid is added to the pot. Using a large wooden spoon, the mixture is stirred and scraped until smooth and frozen.
Traveling to Turkey in search of ice cream leads to the traditional dondurma (the word for freezing). Think of a taffy-like, creamy, stretchy ice cream. It is hard to think of ice cream as chewy and sticky, but that describes the consistency perfectly. Dondurma is made with salep, mastic and flour. Mastic is an aromatic resin that is combined with sugar and milk, and thickened with salep, a powered orchid bulb. This sweet treat also comes in flavors.
Noodles and Beans in Ice Cream
Here is something very different – the Persian faloodeh that is a traditional Iranian dessert. What makes it different is that it is made with vermicelli-sized noodles, rose water, cherry syrup and lime juice. The ice cream closest to faloodeh (also spelled paloodeh) is sorbet, but it does not even look like what most people think of as sorbet because of the noodles. Native to Shiraz, faloodeh is dyed with saffron when made traditionally.
In Germany, they serve a vanilla ice cream that looks like spaghetti but only because the ice cream is pressed through a pasta maker. A strawberry topping is added and a sugar wafer placed on top, and there you have it – spaghetti ice cream.
Ais kacang, a Malaysian shaved ice, is as different as Germany’s spaghetti, but for a very different reason. Ais kacang (aka ABC) means “bean ice” and is sold by street vendors. In the humid hot climate, the shaved ice dessert is unique in that it is topped with items like red beans, sweet corn and grass jelly. A syrup is made of sugar and water and then it is poured over shaved ice followed by a topping of evaporated milk or condensed milk, red beans, and other items of your choice.
Language of the Sweet Tooth
This is just a sampling of the unique ice cream desserts people enjoy every day.
The J-cone in South Korea (crushed corn cone with ice cream on both ends), the sorbetes in the Philippines (cheese-flavored ice cream made with coconut milk and served like a sandwich on a bun), and I-Tim-Pad in Thailand (rolled ice cream) are some others.
No matter the destination, you can say “ice cream” because it is the language of the sweet tooth.