Ice-cream: born in China

Article published on May 24, 2012
Article published on May 24, 2012
A fascinating look at how ice-cream has travelled from the Far East to Europe, and from the highest peaks to our deep freezers

The Italians have taken the credit for it, but it was actually in China where it was discovered that snow was more than just a tool for preserving foods. It was a simple bowl of snow with a squeeze of lemon that became the very first sorbet.

Venetian explorer Marco Polo brought ice-cream to Europe

Ice-cream started out as fruit and a bit of ice, similar to the dish that Alexander the Great and Nero once enjoyed, and which has now become an endless source of inspiration for prestigious chefs. The person in charge of launching ice cream’s world travels was Marco Polo, who brought it to Europe. It’s for that reason that the Spanish name for ice lolly is polo. Of course there were the kings and queens, the only ones for some time who were privileged enough to taste it. They introduced France, Italy and England to ice-cream. In each country, the recipe changed: the French added an egg, in the English court they started experimenting with milk (under the guidance of a French cook), and the Italians made ice-cream popular.

(Image: Roboppy/ Flickr)The Americans came into the picture later on, but they quickly hit the nail on the head. In 1846, Nancy Johnson created the first automatic ice cream maker. That was the beginning of mass-produced ice creams which started to encroach on the territory of artisans, but a sign that read ‘artisanal ice cream’ still attracted much attention from those with a sweet tooth. It was easy to note a difference in the texture, quality and nutrients of artisanal treats. Any good ice-cream maker will say that ice cream is as healthy as any other food.

Vanilla and chocolate continue to be the star flavours of the summer, but who can resist trying a cactus sorbet or a gorgonzola ice cream? We can only hope it doesn’t go as far as beer-flavoured gelato, but innovation is always happening where this icy treat is concerned.

Burnt sugar ice-cream


(Image: .deirdre./ Flickr)1 cup of caramelised sugar (more or less according to taste), ½ litre of milk

200 ml. whipped cream

2 tablespoons rum

½ bar of chocolate, melted (milk chocolate can be substituted for a sweeter taste)

Icing sugar

A pinch of cocoa powder

Walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped (optional)


Melt the sugar in a pan and leave it to brown until it is slightly burnt. Set it aside to cool, but add the milk before it becomes too hard. Mix

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and add it to the caramel-milk mixture. Add in the rum, cocoa, and icing sugar to taste (until you can still taste the burnt flavour), as well as the whipped cream. Combine

Pour into your ice-cream maker and let run for 30 minutes. If you want to add walnuts or hazelnuts, do so at the end of the process so as not to cause problems with the blades of the ice-cream maker. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, put the mixture, including the nuts, into your freezer for an hour and when you remove it, beat it well with fork. Store back in freezer and repeat the steps every hour for the next three hours

Serve your ice cream in scoops decorated with whipped cream and caramels or chocolate shavings


*First published on on 29 August 2008