There are few things better than a cold scoop of ice cream on a hot day — with or without rainbow sprinkles. Of course, Americans aren’t the only ones who’ve realized this. Countries around the world embrace the glory of frozen desserts, and have been for centuries. The history of ice cream around the world is riddled with myths and legends, but most sources say the first frozen milk-based treat came from ancient China in the 7th century. Fast forward to 1600s Italy, which is when sorbet was invented, followed by a “milk-based sorbet.” This is often considered the first real ice cream.
Now that we’ve covered a bit of the backstory, let’s get to the good stuff. Babbel staffers tasted seven frozen desserts and gave their thoughts on the magic of ice cream around the world.
1. Mochi Ice Cream — Japan
Mochi is a traditional Japanese food made from pounding cooked sticky rice into a paste and molding it into various shapes. The food dates back to at least the 10th century when it was used in religious ceremonies in Japan, but it likely originated before that in China. Mochi ice cream was invented in the 1980s by wrapping mochi around balls of ice cream, and the delicacy came to the United States in the ‘90s.
Taste Test: Our designer Ally tried this and said, “Mochi and ice cream are delicious on their own, so this treat is a must-try for lovers of both. The ice cream is wrapped up in a chewy, glutinous rice exterior that makes for mess-free snacking. I had a green tea flavor as well as a classic chocolate flavor. The green tea had a pleasant and bittersweet taste, and the chocolate mochi exterior was much more subtle in flavor than the ice cream interior. Super tasty!”
2. Gelato — Italy
Supposedly, the first gelato flavor was created during the Renaissance period in Florence by an alchemist named Cosimo Ruggieri. The flavor? Fior di Latte (“flower of milk”), also known as “plain gelato.” It was made with just sweetened cream and no added flavors. Gelato’s popularity spread, although the high price made it primarily a rich people’s dessert. It wasn’t made available to the wider public until 1686, when Café Le Procope in Paris began selling it. Today, Italy has around 37,000 gelaterie (“gelato shops”), and you can find them all over the world.
Taste Test: Here’s what our email marketing manager Amy thought of the gelato she tried: “It’s lighter than ice cream without losing out on flavor. I got a cup of Stracciatella and Tiramisù Mandorle (almond tiramisù) from Eataly. Not a bad combo and totally worth the money!”
3. Kulfi — India
Also known in English as “Indian ice cream,” kulfi is a common dessert in India and across South Asia. It’s like American ice cream but slightly chewier and creamier. The treat probably originated in 16th century India, when Mughals mixed saffron and pistachios with condensed milk and froze the mixture in metal cones. The name comes from the Persian word qulfi, which means “a covered cup.” Today, kulfi is still usually frozen in cone-shaped molds and served as a sort-of ice pop. It contains cream, spices like cardamom and sometimes even fruit to create different flavors.
Taste Test: Content fellow Sierra said, “In terms of the consistency, kulfi is very creamy, similar to what you would expect in a high-end ice cream shop. Unlike most of our ice creams, however, kulfi is not very sweet. The closest comparison would be to Earl Grey ice cream — very herby since cardamom is clearly the leading flavor, but an earthy brand of sweetness that I would describe as ‘an acquired taste.'”
4. Spaghetti Eis — Germany
Spaghetti ice cream might sounds disgusting, but it’s not actually pasta-flavored. Spaghetti Eis is a German dessert that is simply vanilla ice cream put through a spätzle (German egg noodle) machine to form noodle shapes. Invented in 1969 by Dario Fontanella, an Italian immigrant living in Germany, Spaghetti Eis is now served at ice cream shops throughout the country. The vanilla ice cream noodles are topped with strawberry sauce, which resembles tomato sauce, and white chocolate flakes to represent parmesan cheese. The dish is traditionally served on a bed of whipped cream. Fontanella says that when he began selling Spaghetti Eis, it made a lot of children cry because they thought they were getting spaghetti when they wanted ice cream.
Taste Test: User research lead Rachel said, “Despite my sharp disdain for foods masquerading as other foods, Spaghetti Eis was a real come-from-behind win. Mostly because I avoided all eye contact with the dish. The creamy vanilla ice cream is pressed to look like delicious al dente noodles, with strawberry sauce disguised as tomato sauce and little white chocolate flakes as the parmesan on top. It’s a trip, but the flavors go well together if you can get over the initial expectation of a hot, steaming dish of Italian pasta.”
5.I-Tim-Pad — Thailand
Known here as “rolled ice cream” or “stir-fried ice cream,” I-Tim-Pad is a popular frozen dessert often sold by Thai street vendors. A creamy milk base is poured on a metal disc, called an “ice grill,” which is cooled to below freezing (street vendors use dry ice to keep it this cold). The people preparing the ice cream use spatulas to spread it around the ice grill and, as it freezes, cut it into strips. These strips are then rolled into the finished product. Fruit or other flavorings are mixed in during the process, as well as any other mix-ins you can imagine. Rolled ice cream has become very popular across the United States in recent years.
Taste Test: Here’s what content producer Steph thought of her matcha rolled ice cream: “I’ve been curious about rolled ice cream for some time now, though I’ve been told there’s no meaningful difference between rolled and scooped. Is it all just an Instagram fad, then? Yeah, for the most part. This matcha treat was fun to look at, and I will say it had a bit of textural lightness owing to its preparation. But all in all, it’s still ice cream — not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
6. Faloodeh — Iran (Persia)
Faloodeh, sometimes spelled faludeh or paloodeh, is an icy Persian dessert made of vermicelli rice noodles, rose water, lime juice or lemon zest, and cherry syrup. The consistency is similar to sorbet. Faloodeh is thought to have originated in the Iranian city of Shiraz and is often called Shirazi Faloodeh. To make it, mix thin rice noodles with Iranian rose water, lemon or lime, and sugar. Then freeze it overnight, and the next day add sour cherries or cherry syrup as garnish. It’s also often dyed with saffron to give it a yellow color.
Taste Test: Offline marketing manager Veronica was a fan: “This Persian spin on frozen dessert is more refreshing than ice cream but still satisfies the sweet tooth. The vermicelli noodles adds soft texture to an otherwise icy treat. For those who have tried Indonesian Es Doger, this is basically the same idea. Highly recommend!”
7. Affogato — Italy
Affogato combines two of the things Italy does best: dessert and espresso. The word affogato literally means “drowned” in Italian, which makes sense considering it’s essentially a scoop of gelato drowning in a shot of espresso. It’s important to consume an affogato immediately, while the hot espresso is melting the cold gelato and the two flavors are blending. Usually vanilla gelato is used, but some cafés experiment with other flavors.
Taste Test: Content producer Thomas said, “Have you ever been forced to choose between getting a coffee and eating some ice cream? You don’t have to live with such limited options! Affogato combines the sweet taste of vanilla gelato with the brusque wake-up power of espresso. And if you usually think espresso’s flavor is too strong, the melting gelato turns it into a creamy milkshake that will chase all your problems away.”