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Ice-cream: A Frozen Dream
by Dr. Anjana Maitra

Ice-cream is perhaps the most popular dessert in the world. Adored by adults and children alike, this frozen dessert today is available in a variety of lip-smacking and mouthwatering colors, flavors, shapes and sizes. Be it winter or summer, ice-cream is a perfect end to a meal. It is rightly said that if ever a food created by man could be called ambrosia, it would be ice-cream.

No single person can be credited with the discovery of ice-cream. It is a truly evolved food. It has a history as rich as its taste, the perfection of which has been appreciated through the ages. It is generally said to have evolved from flavored ices.

According to historians ice-cream originated in China. The ancient Chinese were probably the first to make frozen ice and milk desserts. The famous Italian explorer Marco Polo is credited to have introduced ice-cream to the western world some 700 years ago. Marco Polo went to China along with his father and brother in 1271 on a trading expedition. He was surprised to see a frozen food being sold from handcarts on the streets of Peking. It was actually frozen milk, flavored with fruit juices. Marco Polo was offered it as a gift and he took it with him to Italy. Thus the recipe of milk ice from China brought by Marco Polo later spread through the rest of Europe.

The Roman Emperor Nero ordered runners to bring snow from the nearby mountains and this was flavored with honey and juices. In 1553 Catherine de Medici of Italy went to France and married the second son of Francis I of France. Catherine took with her a large retinue of cooks and introduced the new delicacy to the French, who soon discovered how delicious it was.

At the coronation of Henry V the King dined on “crème freeze”. Charles I is believed to have paid the French who introduced him to ice-cream twenty pounds a year to keep this recipe a secret. It was in 1670 when a Silician named Fransesco Procopio dei Coltelli opened the first fruit café in Paris that sold ice-creams.
Soon ice-cream spread all over the world including the USA. Introduced to America in the 1700s, ice-cream was a hot favorite with George Washington. Ice-cream became a popular luxury food but almost all of it was made at home. Jacob Fussel started America’s first ice-cream plant in Baltimore, Maryland in 1851. It was the fourth First Lady Dolly Madison who first served ice-cream at a State Dinner at the White House. Ice-cream became a national favorite of the Americans during the early 1900s. Ice-cream cones were first served at the 1904 World Fair in St Louis and ice-cream bars first appeared in 1921.

In the beginning ice-cream was considered a treat only for the royal crowd, perhaps storing it was not easy. Frozen river ice was collected in winter and stored in sawdust, Ice-cream became a commercial product only after it was discovered that salt mixed with ice produces a lower freezing temperature, thus not melting it very quickly.

The ice-cream industry flourished during the 19th century and what was once an expensive delight reserved for the rich, was now available to everyone on every occasion. The evolution of ice-cream reflected and revealed the changes in the social customs, diet and nutrition, class distinctions, leisure activities and everyday life.
Actually the introduction of the mechanical refrigeration gave a fillip to the ice-cream industry. The main ingredients of this frozen dessert are milk, cream or condensed milk, a sweetening agent like sugar or honey, eggs and different flavorings like fruits, nuts, chocolates etc.

How is ice-cream made commercially? In an ice-cream plant the chief ingredients (milk solids and fats, sugar and water – called a “mix”) is blended in a huge vat and then pasteurized. Next the mix is homogenized, a process that breaks down the fat particles. Homogenizing the mix helps give the ice-cream a smooth texture. The mix is then pumped through a cooler where its temperature drops to about 2 degrees Celsius. Then it is put into a storage tank for 3-4 hours to “age”. Flavorings and colorings are added and then the mix is frozen.
Most commercial freezers use liquid ammonia to maintain a temperature of about minus 30 degrees Celsius. The mix freezes against the sides of the freezer which has fan like blades that rotate at a high speed. The blades scrape the frozen mix from the sides of the freezer and whip air bubbles into it. If air was not added eating ice-cream would be like chewing sweetened ice cubes. The air increases the volume of the mix. All ice-creams contain air and the more the air, the lighter and fluffier the ice-cream. The difference in volume before and after air is added is called “overrun”. Ice-cream packaged for home use has about 80% overrun.

Fruit and nuts may be added to the ice-cream before it is packaged. After packaging the product is placed in a hardening room. Hardening takes at least 12 hours at temperatures ranging from minus 23 degrees to minus 29 degrees Celsius. Most of the water in the ice-cream freezes during this period so that the product becomes hard for storage.

The Italians call their ice-cream “gelato” and it is usually made of whole milk and eggs. This gives it richness without the other ingredients losing their flavor because of the cream. The flavors are intense while the texture is soft and dense.

Earlier people used to go to the dairies to eat ice-cream. Today the product is available at the grocer’s or the parlors, parks, street corners and homes, thanks to storage facilities.

Many people enjoy making ice-creams at home and treat their family members to this delicacy. Ice-cream making machines are also available today which makes the task easier. Homemade ice-cream has less overrun and may not be as smooth as commercial ice-cream. According to experts the secret of a truly smooth ice-cream lies in the quality of cream used. Since ice-creams are not difficult to make, many hostesses prefer homemade ones to commercial ones. They have the added advantage of being made well ahead. The flavorings one can use are infinite- from vanilla, chocolate, pista and fruit (mango, banana, lichi, pineapple, strawberry etc. One can also garnish with a variety of things (chocolate bits, nuts, chopped fruits, wafers, blob of jelly, hone etc., to present an eye catching and mouthwatering dessert. Served in pretty chilled ice-cream cups, bowls or glasses, it is a treat for the eye as well as the tongue and is sure to bring compliments galore for the hostess.
Ice-cream today is part and parcel of most celebrations – be it a wedding, a reception, an engagement, a birthday or an anniversary. A universal favorite it is served in cups or cones, in slices or as a bar. Ice-cream parlors have proliferated even in smaller towns today and a visit to an ice-cream parlor with friends is the “in” thing among the young and trendy crowd.

The milk products and fats in ice-cream make it rich in calcium, phosphorus, protein and vitamin A, Ice-cream is also high in calories because of the carbohydrates and fats it contains and so it is a good source of energy.
Thus this cool dessert which makes us drool and gives a pool of relief is indeed an amazing discovery. Kids favor it, adults savor it and cooks flavor it. This frozen dream leaves us wanting more and more. 

Images (c) Gettyimages.com

28-Mar-2011
 
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