It’s hard to innovate on a product that is over a thousand years old, which ice cream most definitely is. The frozen confection was first developed between 618 AD and 697 AD in China, where King Tang of Shang reportedly had 94 ice men who helped to make the original ice cream — from buffalo milk, flour and camphor.
The dish improved from its earliest days to the point that a thousand years later in the 1600s Charles I of England had so perfected the royal ice cream recipe to sublime deliciousness that he paid his chef 500 pounds a year to keep his recipe a secret.
And kings aren’t the only leaders in history with a documented passion for the ice cream — U.S. presidents love it.
A Google search for “Joe Biden, ice cream” yields thousands of pictures of the sitting U.S. president eating an ice cream cone everyplace he goes. And Biden is the latest, but not the first. A merchant in New York recorded that George Washington spent $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790, which equates to $5,300 in contemporary dollars. Thomas Jefferson famously served it at the White House at state dinners and left his recipe behind for his successors. Abraham Lincoln served it at his second inauguration.
But among all presidential fans, Ronald Regan undeniably takes the cake (or cone, in this case) when it comes to elevating ice cream. In 1984 he designated July — the most patriotic month — as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. This year we will be celebrating ice cream as a nation on July 21.
But when we celebrate ice cream — will we really be celebrating innovation? Sure, it’s delicious, refreshing and apparently an effective way to win over very powerful people — but after 1,400 years is there really any way to do it better?
A growing number of entrepreneurs are saying yes.
Tyra Banks Brings A SMiZE To Ice Cream
Tyra Banks wants to make you smile. Or to be more accurate she wants to make you SMiZE — a term she invented for smiling with one’s eyes instead of their mouth.
Banks launched a new ice cream shop in Santa Barbara to serve the just released SMiZE Cream, which technically isn’t actually ice cream at all, it is frozen custard. But like ice cream, SMiZE Cream will be sweet, cold and tempting, coming in an array of flavors like strawberry birthday cake with sprinkles, salted caramel with butter-roasted pecans and one flavor humbly titled “The Best Vanilla I Ever Had.”
Like most supermodels, Tyra isn’t an expert on sweets, and the flavors aren’t her invention — she instead tapped a culinary team to help create and manufacture them, including food scientist and fellow reality-TV participant Dr. Maya Warren.
But beyond the expert advice, her ice cream innovation is a surprise extra treat in each cup — a sprinkle-coated cookie-dough truffle in flavors that correspond to each variety of frozen custard.
For those who can’t make it to the California store, SMiZE Cream can be ordered online and delivered across the U.S. in a special Creamz & Dreamz Box, which reportedly includes “includes unique AR experiences and other fun surprises,” according to a release.
Improving Ice Cream By Nixing The Cream
Deena Jalal and “ice-cream” brand FoMu can be found throughout Boston, serving a frozen confection made using coconut milk, and flavors that are completely plant-based. The plan for founding it, she recently told The Boston Globe , was simple and straightforward: ice cream hadn’t had a real upgrade since the renaissance and was due for one.
“It’s fine to be a dessert and indulgent with fat and sugar, but why does it have to be full of all sorts of preservatives?” she said.
FoMu, she said, is an attempt to save ice cream — a classic American food, she noted, that has just gone down the “wrong path,” being over-processed and using unhealthy ingredients. While the business started out catering to lactose-intolerant and vegan consumers, she said, more and more regular omnivores are coming in — not because they explicitly don’t want dairy in their ice cream, but because they actually like it better.
But if taking the cream out of ice cream seems a bridge too far, there are also innovations changing the form, not the recipe, of the All-American summer snack.
Introducing The Ice Cream Burger
We’ve all had an ice cream sandwich, but Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, which has branches in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village, is doing the classic one better with its new signature creation: the ice cream burger.
That is, for the curious, chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream, served up on a lightly buttered and toasted brioche burger bun, complete with sesame seeds.
“Bread is smart because it absorbs the ice cream as it melts,” ice cream burger inventor Nick Morgenstern said.
And for those who can’t make it to New York City to try the creation, Morgenstern suggests Wonder Bread will get the job done in a pinch, though that requires folding the bread over which makes more of an ice cream taco than burger.
But whether it’s animal product-free, served on a burger bun, custom designed by Tyra Banks to make your eyes smile or even just snapped up from the grocer’s freezer with no special bells and whistles added on, we imagine Joe Biden — and the vast majority of other past presidents — would approve.
Because innovative or not, it’s still ice cream and is surely more delectable to eat today than as it was 1,400 years ago when it was made out of buffalo milk.