The most important fact about gelato: it’s incredibly delicious. And you should get some. Now. It’s no wonder this creamy Italian treat has melted into its home country’s culture for hundreds of years. Here are a few scrumptious facts about our favorite frozen dessert:
The Chinese likely invented ice-cream in around 200 B.C. by mixing milk and rice and packing it in snow. But the gelato we crave today is an Italian Renaissance masterpiece — you know, along with the likes of the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. In the 16th century, Cosimo Ruggieri, an alchemist and astrologist for Caterina de' Medici, created the first official recipe for gelato.
When Roman Emperor Nero (37 – 68 A.D.) had a craving for Italian ice, he reportedly sent servants to the mountains for snow, which they then wrapped in straw and rushed back to their boss so he could have a honey-flavored slushy. The Devil Wears Toga?
Italian noblewoman Caterina de’ Medici impressed the French court by bringing gelato to Paris the 1530s. The rich and famous remained the only ones to dip their silver spoons into the decadent dessert until another Italian, Francesco Procopio Cuto, opened “Le Procope” in Paris in 1686, to sell sorbet to the masses.
You can still reserve a table there today, and choose among house-made scoops of passion fruit, amaretto, coconut, white coffee, or vanilla. Oui, s’il vous plaît!
Chocolate-gelato lovers know how to lay on the charm and seduction; vanilla fans tend to be colorful, dramatic, and expressive; while strawberry aficionados are thoughtful, tolerant, and introverted. Discover yourgelato personality — and your scoop’s soulmate — on our blog!
Both frozen treats are delicious, but twins they’re not! Gelato has less fat and air whipped into it than ice cream, which makes it melt slower. The real deal is also smoother in texture, lower in sugar, and contains no preservatives, so it can only be kept for three days, according to Italian law. But who can resist gelato for that long anyway?
Gelato has its very own museum outside of Bologna, Italy. During your visit, you can dig into the dessert’s history and cultural significance, before enjoying the hour-long tour’s sweet ending: the tasting room. There, modern versions of historical recipes — such as strawberry and raspberry sorbet à la 1822 and coffee sorbet as served in 1854 — line up for your review. For a few euros extra, you can learn to make your own.
Neapolitan ice cream gets its name from the city of Naples, where it was known asspumoni. Italian immigrants brought the confection to the U.S. in the late 1800s, layering three flavors (originally pistachio, vanilla, and cherry) to resemble their home-country flag. Later, the popularity of chocolate and strawberry led to the delectable combo we know today.
Around the turn of the 20th century in the U.S. and U.K., children squealed with delight at the sound of a jingling bell and a sing-song “O che poco!” (Oh how little!). The phrase — later jumbled into “hokey-pokey” — meant Italian street vendors had frozen novelties for sale for little money. “Hokey-pokey” soon became known as sellers’ signature treat: a sweet slice of a Neapolitan-striped confection, wrapped in paper and handed to wide-eyed kiddos for a penny.
Italy remains the planet’s largest producer of gelato, with an estimated 19,000 artisanal gelato shops churning out about 6.8 billion scoops per year. That’s around 100 servings per person every 365 days. Just in case you’re wondering, you can get a one-way plane ticket from NYC to Rome for less than $200.