Chocolate Or Vanilla: Which Ice Cream Flavor Was Invented First?

If you're a fan of ice cream, you probably fall into one of two camps; either you're Team Vanilla or Team Chocolate ice cream. They're so beloved that they're often seen as ice cream's most popular flavors. But this seemingly innocent preference has sparked a rather amusing debate among ice cream enthusiasts, akin to the age-old chicken-and-the-egg question: Which came first, vanilla or chocolate ice cream?

For those rooting for Team Chocolate, here's some good news: Chocolate ice cream, historically, came first! The very first mention of a frozen chocolate dessert, sorbet, dates all the way back to 1693 when Antonio Latini, an Italian steward and chef, included it in his cookbook "Lo scalco alla moderna" ("The Modern Steward"). However, it wasn't until 1775 that we have a documented record of dairy-based chocolate ice cream by an Italian doctor named Filippo Baldini. He penned a treatise called "De sorbetti," where he recommended chocolate ice cream as a remedy for gout and scurvy.

In contrast, vanilla ice cream's history began a bit later. Initially, vanilla bean extract was used to flavor chocolate drinks. But over time, vanilla carved out its own identity as a distinct flavor apart from chocolate drinks. Eventually, around the 1760s, the French transformed it into a standalone ice cream flavor. The recipe caught the attention of one of America's founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote it down. You can now find his note on vanilla ice cream in the Library of Congress!

What was the first ice cream flavor ever?

It depends on what your definition of "ice cream" is! Long before the familiar ice cream we enjoy today, people in Ancient China's Tang Dynasty (618-901 CE) already made frozen desserts by dipping metal tubes filled with milk, flour, and camphor into ice pools. If we define "ice cream" this way, the first flavor is likely herbal-scented milk!

But if we use the modern definition of "ice cream" — a cream-based frozen dessert — we need to look to England during the Stuart Era and into a memoir written in the 1660s by an Englishwoman named Lady Anne Fanshawe. In it, she mentioned a recipe for a treat called "Icy Cream." Specifically, she wrote: "Take three pints of the best cream, boil it with a blade of mace, or perfume it with orange flower water or ambergris, sweeten the cream with sugar." This mixture was then placed in a tin or silver container, covered with ice, and left to chill for two hours, resulting in a container full of "Icy Cream."

So, the earliest ice cream flavor might've been a blend of nutmeg seed's covering (mace), bitter orange essence (orange blossom water), and the sweet, earthy taste of ambergris — a substance derived from sperm whale excrement (it tastes and smells much better than it sounds, we promise!).  In fact, "Icy Cream" was considered "elite" enough to grace the menu of the Garter Order banquet hosted by Charles II in 1671!