Everything you need to know about ice cream

3 Jun 2020

Food + Drink Summer

I scream, you scream, we all scream for Ice Cream Month!

Ice cream is so highly esteemed that it has its own month dedicated to it – every July, people come together to celebrate Ice Cream Month. To pay homage to Ice Cream Month, we’ve delved into ice cream’s rich history, to see where it all started, and looked at what ice cream is made from that makes it so delicious!

Whilst we might be used to the creamy texture of this frozen classic, around the world ice cream takes many different forms, prompting us to ask; who celebrates Ice Cream Month?

Ice cream’s history

It seems the timeline of ice cream is so long that it is enough to give any historian brain-freeze! It is believed that ice cream is an ancient treat: up to 4000 years ago the Chinese elite enjoyed a frozen dessert, made from snow, saltpeter and syrup. Fruit ices were further developed when fruit juices, honey and spices were added into the ingredients.

Through trading, this frozen dessert was introduced to the Persians who drank syrups cooled with snow. After Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire in 331 B.C.E, the ice cream was introduced to Ancient Greece, where the royals enjoyed ice flavoured with honey and nectar. During the Roman Empire, Nero Claudius Caesar famously sent runners to the mountains to fetch snow, which was then brought back and mixed with fruits and juices.

shaved ice dessert

It wasn’t until much later that ancient ice cream evolved into a product we are more familiar with today. Venetian explorer Marco Polo introduced the icy mixtures, made with water – or milk – and fruits to Italy. In the 16th century, this developed into a product which is more similar to the ice cream we know nowadays. It is alleged that Italian Catherine de Medici introduced France to the frozen dessert in 1553 when she became the wife of French King Henry II.

One hundred years later, Charles I of England discovered the sweet frozen snow mixture, and allegedly paid to keep the formula secret from the masses, making it a royal prerogative so that the ordinary man would be forbidden to sample the 17th century ice cream.

A more modern ice cream

Ice cream wasn’t available to normal folk in England until the 18th century, when recipes for ice cream started to be published. The recipes instructed readers to use the addition of cream to their ice, sugar and fruit mixture, giving the frozen dessert its creamy element.

Introduced to America by European colonists in the 18th century, ice cream quickly gained popularity amongst the settlers, although it wasn’t commonly available until 1800 when insulated ice houses were invented, enabling ice cream to be manufactured. The presidency of Ronald Reagan saw ice cream enshrined in the calendar in 1984 – to celebrate this cooling desert, Ice Cream Month was to be held every year in July.

Ice cream today

For most of us today, ice cream is a ubiquitous summer treat. The sound of ice cream vans trundling down the road or parked up on the side of the beach selling ice cream cones evokes a timeless image of British summer time. Often it seems churlish to limit our consumption only in the summer, so we stash pots in our freezer for Netflix binges or late-night cravings. Sound familiar?

ice cream van on a summer's day

The Ice Cream Alliance (ICA) says that the average person in the UK eats around nine litres of ice cream a year, and vanilla is overwhelmingly the nation’s favourite flavour, being chosen nine times out of 10. We might be eating prodigious portions of it without a second thought, but this Ice Cream Month, let’s have a closer look at what is in our beloved dessert.

What is ice cream made from?

Different ice creams are made in different ways and therefore have different ingredients, but most include a variation of milk, cream, eggs, sugar and a flavouring. They are often churned using a special machine, which breaks down the ice crystals and gives it a creamy texture – otherwise it would just be a block of frozen cream! It is possible to make homemade ice cream without a machine, but you’ll have to take your mixture out of the freezer and stir it thoroughly every 30 minutes to get that creamy texture.


Italian restaurant serving gelato

The Italian version is similar to the ice cream we see in the UK, but there are a few key differences. It contains more milk than cream, and often has a lower quantity of sugar and eggs (or no eggs at all). The main difference is that it is churned much more slowly than ice cream, which is what gives it that silky-smooth texture. It is also served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, making it softer.

Scoop ice cream

The tubs nestling in the freezer section, or the round, colourful scoops on ice cream cones are generally referred to as scoop ice cream. Artisan ice creams are made by churning a custard base mixture made with eggs, whereas other ice creams are just sugar, cream and milk churned together, sometimes with an emulsifier. Churned faster than gelato, it has a fine crystalline texture.

Soft serve ice cream

The classic spiral shape presiding atop an ice cream cone has less milk fat and more air content than scoop ice cream. The mixture is kept at a cold – but unfrozen – temperature, but when it is served, the machine both freezes the mixture and adds air to it. This causes the soft serve ice cream to become fluffier and smoother than other types of ice cream, and it is usually served at around 6℃.

soft serve ice cream

Ice cream of the gods

Unsurprisingly, at Hotel Chocolat our favourite ice cream flavour is chocolate, but not as you know it. We always strive for originality, and our chef decided to eschew adding cocoa powder to the ice cream mix, or sprinkling cocoa nibs on top of the ice cream – that had all been done before. So he infused high quality jersey milk and cream with cocoa nibs for 48 hours until the flavour developed and the mixture took on a subtle taupe colour.

This gives our soft-serve ice cream a uniquely nutty, malty and rounded flavour, perfect to complement your favourite toppings. In line with our mantra of “more cocoa, less sugar” it also only has 12% sugar, considerably lower than other ice cream makers. We called it ice cream of the gods after the cocoa plant itself – Theobroma cacao translates as “cocoa, food of the gods”.

Ice lollies or ice cream?

For some, ice lollies trump ice cream, and this might be to do with the fact that they feel just a little healthier than indulging in ice cream. Ice lollies take many forms, from the long garishly-coloured tubes wrapped in plastic, to gourmet cocktail-inspired ice lollies. Regardless of how they are presented, they are a wonderful way to cool down on a warm summer’s day, but are ice lollies actually good for us?

What is an ice lolly?

Three ice lollies

Although many ice lollies are dairy-free, an ice lolly is actually any water or milk-based liquid that is frozen on a stick. Unlike ice creams or sorbets, which are stirred and whipped as they are frozen to prevent ice crystal formation and to give it their classic smooth texture, lollies are left alone to freeze. This means they become a solid block, just like the ice cubes in your freezer.

It is thought that they were first created in the US – the first patent for “frozen ice on a stick” was granted in 1924 – but they quickly spread across the world. In Mexico and Latin America, where they are known as paletas or “little sticks”, they can have flavours ranging from classic vanilla to chilli pepper and tamarind.

How healthy are ice lollies?

The question as to whether ice lollies are a healthy snack depends almost entirely on the type of ice lolly you choose. Most of the cheap, colourful ice lollies you buy from your ice cream van are likely to be made with artificial colours and flavourings, using refined sugars and sugar syrups to give it the sweetness. Cool and refreshing, but not good for your teeth!

Fruit ice lollies made from not-from-concentrate fresh fruit juice are often seen as a healthier alternative and are a great option as part of a balanced diet, but remember that fruit juice has a lot of sugars, so it might not be the best choice if you’re trying to stick to low calorie snacks.

homemade fruit ice lollies

Making ice lollies at home is a great way to make sure that your ice lollies are healthy; try mixing crushed raspberries with water, lemon juice and a touch of honey and freezing them for a great healthy snack.

Our chocolate-dipped ice lollies

Just like you, when the start of summer comes around we can’t resist an ice lolly – or two! However, we also wanted a way to satisfy a cocoa craving, so we created our exclusive chocolate-dipped ice lollies.

Dairy free decadence: Our Just Chocolate ice lolly is dense, cocoa-rich and intensely chocolatey on its own, but we took an extra step and dipped it in 70% chocolate that snaps satisfyingly when your teeth crack through into the lolly underneath. If you’re looking for a fruitier concoction, we froze a refreshing mix of orange and lemon into our ice lolly and dipped it in the same rich 70% chocolate to add deep richness to the fruity citrus tang.

Creamy indulgence: We’ve spent a long time perfecting our salted caramel mixture : we’ve created a decadent ice lolly with malty caramel notes, lifted with Guérande sea salt. Oh, and we also dipped it in salted caramel chocolate – we couldn’t help ourselves. Our strawberries and cream ice lolly reimagines a summer classic: we’ve drenched it in high-cocoa butter white chocolate, which melts smoothly once on the tongue into the zesty-but-mellow ice lolly underneath.

They may not be the healthiest ice lollies on the market, but we guarantee that none of our products have anything artificial, ever. As long as you integrate them into a balanced diet then let yourself enjoy our ice lollies, guilt-free! If ice lollies aren’t quite decadent enough for you though, then our Ice Cream of the Gods is waiting for you to give it a try!

ice cream of the gods

This summer, try one of our ice lollies or ice creams to discover how we make chocolate into a perfect snack all year round, whether it’s hot chocolate in the winter or ice lollies in the summer – and everything in between! Find them at one of our stores across the country