Science corner

Sophie Duncan screams for ice cream

We have been eating ice cream for more than 300 years. Ice cream's origins are in China in the first century, where an ice, flour and milk based dessert was created. Another popular treat was to mix snow with fruit juice to make a sorbet-like drink.

Ice cream was first served in England to Charles II in 1671. However ice, the key ingredient, was difficult to come by, making ice cream a treat for the wealthy. It had to be eaten immediately as there was no adequate way to store it. It was not widely available until the second half of the 19th-century.

Ice cream was made using a simple process that can easily be replicated. A metal container was placed inside a bucket filled with ice and salt. The introduction of the salt reduces the melting point of the ice, lowering the temperature of the ice salt mixture. A mixture of cream or milk, sugar and flavouring is put into the container and stirred. The mixture grows colder and forms ice cream. The stirring prevents ice crystals from forming and means that the ice cream is smooth. This method for freezing food using a salt and ice mixture dates back to the 13th-century, yet still forms a wonderful activity for children. (Take care with choice of equipment and hygiene if you are planning to eat the results.) Two inventions revolutionised the ice cream industry. The first was the ice cream maker, introduced in 1843. The basic method was the same, but the machine stirred the ice cream constantly, ensuring a smoother texture. The second invention was the freezer. This was allowed ice cream to become a regular food, rather than an occasional treat.

Sophie Duncan is programme manager with Science Year www.scienceyear.com

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