Ten Random Facts About Ice Cream

Courtesy of my new book, The Science of Ice Cream, here are some facts about ice cream you may not know:

  1. Ice cream has been called “just about the most complex food colloid of all.”  A colloid is when a microscopic substance is evenly dispersed throughout another substance.
  2. In the case of ice cream, air bubbles, ice crystals, and fat droplets are  suspended in a solution of sugars, polysaccharides (starches), and milk proteins called The Matrix.  When you eat ice cream, you’re eating The Matrix.
  3. One of the first Americans recorded to have served ice cream was the governor of Maryland in 1744.   It has been served by every president, and became a regular staple of White House menus after James Madison served it at his inaugural dinner.
  4. The first ice cream maker was invented by Nancy Johnson in the 1840s in Philadelphia by putting two spatulas with holes in them inside a cylindrical barrel.  The modern ice cream industry was founded by Jacob Fussell, a dairy farmer from Baltimore, Maryland, who made ice cream to sell off his surplus milk.  In 1851, he built the first ice cream factory.
  5. In 19th century England, ice cream was sold by Italian immigrants working as street vendors, who would shout “ecco un poco,” Italian for “try a little” in order to attract customers.   This phrase later became “hokey pokey,” which now can mean either poor quality ice cream, or deception and trickery.  The fact that they reused their ice cream glasses by merely wiping them with a cloth, creating a major health hazard, didn’t help their reputation.
  6. The ice cream cone was invented by Agnes Marshall, who published a recipe for it in 1888, but it  really took off when Ernest A. Hamwi, a waffle vendor at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair offered his waffles as a container to the ice cream vendor next door, which had run out of dishes.
  7. During the second world war, ice cream production in the UK stopped, as factories were re-purposed to make margarine, and rationing prohibited the use of cream to make ice cream.  In response, British ice cream companies began to use vegetable fats and milk powder, which was also cheaper.  However, even after rationing ended, so many people were used to the vegetable fat based ice cream, that many continued to prefer it to the real thing.
  8. In the 1950s, Lyons Maid, now a division of Nestle, hired a young chemist named Margaret Roberts to to study ice cream in their research and development department.  Margaret Roberts later married and became Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the UK from 1979-1990.  The Iron Lady was once an ice cream scientist.
  9. The USA is the largest producer of ice cream, and the second largest consumer on a per-capita basis.  Only New Zealanders eat more.  While one might assume that people in warm climates consume more ice cream, the opposite is actually true, as those from cooler climates are more used to consuming lots of milk, cheese, and butter.  A surprising factor influencing ice cream consumption is whether building regulations allow households to own a large freezer.  The most popular flavors vary in different parts of the world, from vanilla and chocolate, the most popular globally, to green tea and red bean (Japan), sweet corn (Malaysia), chili (Indonesia), and sesame seed (Korea).
  10. Ice cream sales are highly seasonal, peaking in July and reaching their nadir in January.  However, companies still try to promote ice cream with three main themes: fun, indulgence, and refreshment.  Fun themes are targeted towards families, indulgent images are targeted towards selling premium products to adults, often using sexual attraction in their imaging, and products like Popsicles (called ice lollies in the UK) are marketed based on the way they cool down and refresh.

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