August 21, 2017

Kacey Templin

The Science of Ice Cream

Topics: STEM


Summer is winding down, but we still have a few hot days left. And when it gets hot out, people turn to ice cream to cool down. Did you know that people have been enjoying icy-cool desserts for centuries? Ice cream actually has a long and storied past, but it didn’t always look and taste the way we know it today! In honor of National Spumoni Day, we’re taking a look at this tasty treat!

Food historians will tell you that ice cream began with flavored ice. The earliest mentions of this flavored ice was during the 2nd century B.C. Alexander the Great was known from enjoying snow flavored with honey and nectar. Caesar was also rumored to have sent servants to mountains to collect ice that would be topped with fruit juices. It’s believed that the Chinese created the first true ice creams, and that Marco Polo brought them back to the west along with pasta. These claims are questionable, but we do know that the type of ice cream we enjoy today was first mentioned in 17th century Italy. Ice cream quickly traveled west to France, where they added egg yolks to the mixture. Originally enjoyed by elite society, by 1660 the sweet treat was made for the public.


Ice cream is enjoyed all around the world, but Americans have a special affinity for it. The average American will eat 40 pints in a single year! Once America got its hands on ice cream, there was no turning back. Introduced in the 18th century, even Thomas Jefferson had his own recipe for vanilla ice cream. The invention of the insulated ice house helped to make ice cream manufacturing an industry in the U.S., pioneered by Baltimore milk dealer Jacob Fussell in 1851. The wide availability of ice cream led to creative concoctions like the ice cream soda and the ice cream sundae. During World War II, ice cream became an edible morale symbol, and each branch tried to outdo the other in serving ice cream to the troops. When the war was won, America celebrated with ice cream. Since then, ice cream productions has been relatively constant and the demand is always high!

It’s no secret that ice cream isn’t the best for your health – it’s loaded with sugar and fat. But did you know that the sweet treat also has a few health benefits? For one, it’s a great source of vitamin A, B-6, B-12, C, D, and E. On top of that it’s a source of calcium and phosphorus. It also provides energy and stimulates the brain through the happiness hormone called thrombotonin. Just remember these facts the next time someone tries to argue that ice cream is pure junk food!

In the end, ice cream is pretty much the best sweet treat around. It’s also fairly easy to make at home, so why not make this a fun activity for the whole family? Below are two recipes for ice cream – one dairy and one non-dairy for our lactose-intolerant readers. Enjoy!




Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

(Recipe courtesy of

Serves 12


2 cups of whipping cream

1 (14 ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

  1. In a large bowl, combine vanilla and condensed milk; mix well.
  1. Fold in the whipping cream.
  1. Pour into a 9x5 loaf pan and cover.
  1. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm


Dairy-Free Chocolate Ice Cream

(Recipe courtesy of the Minimalist Baker)

Serves 12


2 14-ounce cans of coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk, chilled in the fridge overnight

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

14-16 ounces of pitted dates

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup unsweetened almond milk


1 ounce espresso

½ tsp cinnamon

cacao nibs

  1. Place a large mixing bowl in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, add moist, pitted dates to a food processor and process until small bits remain. Then add hot water a little at a time until it forms a thick paste. Set aside.
  3. Without tipping the cans, scoop out the coconut cream from the cans of coconut cream OR coconut milk, reserving the clear liquid for other uses. Place in chilled mixing bowl.
  4. NOTE: If you're using coconut milk, you'll likely use less sweetener because there's less volume.
  5. Using a mixer, whip until creamy and smooth. Then add cocoa powder, vanilla, almond milk, and half of the date paste. Whip until fully incorporated.
  6. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. I ended up adding most of the date paste and a little more cocoa powder.
  7. Transfer to a parchment-lined freezer-safe container and cover loosely with plastic wrap, then foil to help freeze.
  8. You can take this out in a couple of hours for a chilled mousse-like ice cream. Freeze overnight for a firmer ice cream.
  9. Set out for at least 20 minutes prior to scooping, and use a scoop warmed under hot water for a proper scoop.
  10. Will keep in the freezer for up to one week, but best when fresh.



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