Monday, December 15, 2003

How Was Ice Cream Developed?

You know your favorite flavor and that you have to eat it fast before it melts, but do you know the science of ice cream? Believe it or not, ice cream as we know it has had a pretty rocky road in order to be as yummy and available as it is today. In "The History of Ice Cream," written by the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers (IAICM), Washington DC, 1978, a very detailed history of the cold and creamy treat is described. The funny part about the book, though is that most of the early history of ice cream remains unproven folklore.

And so the story goes...once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, Charles I of England hosted a banquet for many of his friends and family. The meal featured the greatest foods of the day and ended with a cold treat that resembled fresh-fallen snow. The guests as well as Charles loved the cold treat and Charles paid the cook 500 pounds a year to only serve it at his Royal table. The cook kept the secret until Charles was beheaded in 1649.

This tale along with others provides some insight into the evolution of our country's most popular dessert. Most likely, ice cream was not invented, but rather came to be over years of similar efforts. Even the Roman Emperor Caesar is said to have sent slaves to the mountains to bring snow and ice to cool and freeze the fruit drinks he was so fond of. Centuries later, the Italian Marco Polo returned from his famous journey to the Far East with a recipe for making water ices resembling modern day sherbets.

These tales are interesting and help to connect history with food science as well as cultural traditions. Unfortunately, no real historical evidence supports any of these stories. The tales might just have been a marketing plan of the nineteenth-century ice-cream makers and vendors. When it comes to actual facts, it seems that ice cream may have had its first appearance in China.

Although the actual history of ice cream is rocky, some of the inventions that were made to improve ice cream are a little more know. The first improvement in the manufacture of ice cream (from the handmade way in a large bowl) was given to us by a New Jersey woman, Nancy Johnson. In 1846, she invented the hand-cranked freezer. This device is still familiar to many. By turning the freezer handle, they agitated a container of ice cream mix in a bed of salt and ice until the mix was frozen. Because Nancy Johnson lacked the foresight to have her invention patented, her name does not appear on the patent records. A similar type of freezer was, however, patented on May 30, 1848, by a Mr. Young who at least had the courtesy to call it the "Johnson Patent Ice Cream Freezer." Commercial production was begun in North America in Baltimore, Maryland, 1851, by Mr. Jacob Fussell, now known as the father of the American ice cream industry. Right in our backyard at Penn State, tremendous research on how to make ice cream from making the best flavors to extending its shelf-life have been occurring for decades. Besides several tasty flavors, the Penn State Creamery offers a course (Ben and Jerry even took it) and a little museum. Maybe one day this summer when you are hot and in the mood for a sweet taste and a food science lesson you should ask your parents to take you down 322 E to Happy Valley. In the meantime, share your secrets on ice cream to your friends and family.

Little Lions Experiment:

Fill up a paper Dixie cup with water and another one with fruit juice. Only fill up the cups to about 3/4 full as liquid expands as it freezes (molecules in ice are bigger than they are in a liquid state). Then, place them carefully in the freezer and time how long they take to freeze. Monitor the process and see where ice forms first. Try to think why ice forms on the top before in the middle. Then, time to see which freezes first water or fruit juice. You can freeze other liquids such as milk or solids just as pudding or yogurt, if you want. Try to determine if a substance's state (liquid or solid) affects its freezing time as well as the material's density, i.e. has more sugar, food ingredients in it. Then, enjoy your frozen treats. Be careful, not to give yourself a "brain-freeze" as cold foods can cause mild nerve triggers that can hurt your head.