What Was The World's First Ice Cream Flavor?

There's something to be said for living in the age of modern conveniences. For instance, when you have a hankering for a frozen dairy dessert, you can simply head to your nearest supermarket and grab a ready-made container of ice cream — a tub selected from a plethora of mouth-watering flavors. Gone are the days of only choosing between the two traditional options of chocolate or vanilla. You can grab a pint of Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Half Baked, Häagen-Dazs' Divine Coffee Cookie Swirl, Tillamook Marionberry Pie, and more. You can even whip up a batch of your own Tahini Ice Cream. What a time to be alive.  

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the average person in the U.S. devours approximately 20 pounds of ice cream each year. (That's a heck of a lot of ice cream sundaes and cones.) The ubiquitous popularity of ice cream is also evident in simple number sets. Per a report published by Statista, as of this writing, ice cream fans prefer Ben & Jerry's to other competitors; the brand alone boasted $936 million in sales from September 2020 to September 2021. 

But aside from name brands, what flavors do Americans prefer most? A 2020 poll conducted by YouGov showed that 17% of respondents stated they loved chocolate the best, while vanilla placed second at 15% of the vote. Taking that into account, all this ice cream talk raises one question: What was the world's first ice cream flavor? 

The first ice cream resembled another popular summertime treat

With ice cream of every flavor and hue available at our fingertips, it's hard to imagine a time when a triple scoop cone was considered a distant dream, or even a complete impossibility. So what were the humble origins of the frozen confection we know and love today?

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the ancient famed Greek conqueror Alexander the Great was fond of a dessert made with snow and laced with nectar and honey, making it the first-ever official flavor of ice cream, though one we wouldn't necessarily expect. The trend allegedly continued centuries later with the Roman Emperor Nero, who had a penchant for adding fruit and juices to his own icy concoction and sent slaves into the mountains to retrieve handfuls of snow to make a scoop. (However, per the Old Farmer's Almanac, Nero's fabled love of ice cream might be more a myth that anything else.)

When it comes to more concrete examples of history's first ice cream connoisseurs, food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson told Reader's Digest in a March 2022 interview that all fingers point to ancient China. "Around 200 B.C.E., there's a reference to people in China eating [a combination of] milk and rice that was frozen in the snow," according to Johnson. But how did it morph into the creamy goodness that is enjoyed today?

It took centuries for ice cream to resemble the dish we love today

According to PBS, one of the earliest iterations of what would become the ice cream we know and love today can be traced back to the 11th century, in the form of an icy beverage created and enjoyed by Arabs and Persians known as sharabt. The drink, which is also known widely as "sherbert," was quickly adopted by Europeans, and was later transformed into a dessert after sugar was added to the recipe. 

The evolution of ice cream — and specifically, its transformation from less of a liquid to more of a solid — occurred during the 17th century when an Italian bureaucrat named Antonio Latini concocted the first-ever recipe for sorbetto, otherwise known as sorbet. Per PBS, Latini's creation is considered the first official version of ice cream. So the next time you peruse the nearest ice cream aisle, be thankful that you aren't limited to tubs of snow. Ice cream has come a long way and 21st-century palates everywhere are relieved.