A Brief History Of Ice Cream In India

Creamy, cold and universally adored, ice cream has become a part of peoples’ lives no matter where in the world they live. Italy has Gelato, India has its Kulfi and in some form or the other, every country has its own version of a sweet icy dessert. The dessert had some roots in the Chinese Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) where they used to enjoy a frozen milk confection that bears resemblance to the ice cream we know today. Camphor was added to cow, goat or buffalo milk which was then heated with flour before being lowered in metal tubes into ice pools until they were frozen. It was this process that the traveller Marco Polo carried with him back to Italy in the 13th century and is credited with the arrival of ice cream in Europe. 

Others believe that although it was this the turning point for commercially made ice creams, there are plenty of cultures which predate this method. For example in Persia, the Arabs used milk as a major ingredient in the production of Falooda which was then sweetened with sugar as early as the 10th century. Made with milk, cream or yoghurt, it was flavoured with rosewater and dried fruit and nuts. 

It was in the 16th century that a frozen dessert was developed in Delhi during the Mughal reign. Whether this was brought in from Kabul or originated by them in India is unclear but it served as the launchpad for kulfi as we know it today. The name itself refers to the conical metal mould in which it was made and the preparation dates back to Emporer Akbar’s royal kitchens. The mixture was created by freezing khoa – or khoya as we know it today – with nuts and saffron essence for flavour and colour. It was then sealed with dough before freezing in ice. 

The ice itself was a hard-to-procure ingredient in tropical Delhi so relays of horsemen were employed to ferry ice between the Hindukush mountains and Delhi both for the making of kulfi and more simple fruit sorbets. 

By the 18th century, French and English cookbooks began to mention butter ices and creams ices and the term ‘ice cream’ was first used in May 1777, in the New York Gazette by Philip Lenzi, who described himself as a confectioner from London. In a short 20 years, a public announcement was made for the sale and supply of ice cream to the people of Baltimore and in 1809, Dolly Madison, the wife of President James Madison served it to state guests with great success. 

In 1810, Frederic Tudor made ice cream in the West Indies using milk, cream and fruit juices in an attempt to establish a trade of ice with his homeland in the US. He had enormous success selling both ice and ice cream in South America, Iran and India and the rest as they say is history.

The delectable dessert has since become one of the most sought-after treats and found its way into almost every home in the country. Thanks to constant innovation rooted in ancient times, the popularity of ice cream isn’t one that looks to be waning any time soon.