Ice Cream's Sweet Origin Could Date Back To The Tang Dynasty

If you've ever had rich, creamy gelato, you know that ice cream isn't just an American dessert. In fact, your favorite summertime treat comes in many shapes and forms around the world. Israeli ice cream lovers enjoy halva ice cream, which is made from a sugar and honey paste combined with sesame seeds, while Iranians slurp up faloodeh, or frozen vermicelli noodles mixed with cornstarch, rose water, and lime juice.

And while the average American consumes about 20 pounds of ice cream every year, according to the United States Census Bureau, it wasn't the first country to ever think of eating it. In fact, the origins of ice cream may be traced all the way back to China during the Tang Dynasty. Today, the Chinese are still continuing to innovate when it comes to ice cream, as luxury brand Zhong Xue Gao invented an expensive version that doesn't melt, even when exposed to fire. But back in the day, the Chinese played a crucial part in the creation of ice cream as we know it.

Emperor Tang ordered 94 men to make him ice cream

Although the origins of ice cream go back as far as 54 B.C., the ancient versions are a world away from the pints of Ben & Jerry's we dig into today. Back then, Romans kept ice in ice houses covered with straw to ensure it stayed cold. However, the first recorded instance of anything resembling modern-day ice cream may be during the Chinese Tang Dynasty, which ran from 618 to 907 A.D. Chinese nobles, looking for a milk-based treat to enjoy during the summer, made milk ice with snow from the mountains and a rice milk paste that was normally used to make warm rice pudding.

Ancient Chinese people also experimented with adding fruit juices and honey to snow, which produced something closer to snow cones than today's ice cream. Eventually, Emperor Tang tried the creation and liked it so much that he ordered 94 men to make him an advanced version with buffalo milk, flour, and camphor — these subjects have been dubbed Emperor Tang's "ice men," according to China Admissions. To freeze the concoction, they lowered the buffalo milk mixture into ice pools using metal tubes.

The Chinese didn't get to gatekeep their early ice cream creations for too long, however, as Marco Polo is said to have brought the snowy milk mixture back to Italy with him, where it became an exclusive treat for the wealthy.