Ancient civilizations have served ice for cold foods for thousands of years. Frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 BC.
The origins of ice cream can be traced back to at least the 4th century B.C. Early references include the Roman emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68) who ordered ice to be brought from the mountains and combined it with fruit toppings. King Tang (A.D. 618-97) of Shang, China had a method of creating ice and milk concoctions. Ice cream was likely brought from China back to Europe.
As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world's major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.
At about the end of the 13th century, Marco Polo returned from a voyage to China. With him he brought recipes for types of ice milk. It still wasn't ice cream, but very popular for a long time.
Soon, Italian chefs were creating frozen feasts and dishes made with water, milk, and cream. When Catherine de Medici married Harry II, she brought her chefs to Paris to make gelatin - Italian for ice cream. Over time, recipes for ices, sherbets, and milk ices evolved and served in the fashionable Italian and French royal courts.
In the sixteenth century, the Mughal emperors used relays of horsemen to bring ice from the Hindu Kush to Delhi, where it was used in fruit sorbets.
A legend says that Charles I of England was supposedly so impressed by the "frozen snow", he offered his personal ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula secret, so ice cream could be a royal prerogative.
But fact is that for many years throughout Europe, frozen desserts remained the dishes of royalty and people of great wealth.
In the 1670's commoners finally got a chance to try the elite treat! A Sicilian named Collitle introduced ice cream to the patrons of his cafe. Ice cream parlors soon began to spring up around Europe. New combinations of fruit, nuts, and flavors to add to the ice cream were soon to be tried.
The first step towards giving us the kind of ice cream we enjoy today was made by Nancy Johnson (USA) who invented the hand-crank freezer in 1846.
Hence, from about 1850 onwards ice cream became a real treat for 'ordinary people'; in the UK it was the love of ice cream amongst Italian immigrants that sparked a new level of interest in the food.
In the 1920s Clarence Vogt produced the first continuous process freezer which opened up the possibility for commercial ice cream manufacture. The 1930s saw a big rise in popularity for ice cream as it became more widely available and in different flavours.