Ice Cream in Asia: How Different Cultures Have Put Their Own Spin on This Classic Dessert

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Ice cream (derived from earlier iced cream or cream ice) is a frozen food, typically eaten as a snack or dessert, usually made from dairy products, such as milk and cream, and often combined with fruits or other ingredients and flavours. It is typically sweetened with sucrose, corn syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar, and/or other sweeteners.

Ice cream is one of the most popular desserts in the world, but did you know that it originated in Asia? It’s true!

It’s said that the emperor of China became a fan of ice when he tasted it from the woods around the palace and found it tasted sweet. That probably was because of honey dripping from beehives onto the ice, thus sweetening it.

Around 200 CE these were already the first signs of ice cream when he then started adding other flavorings like buffalo milk.

The first recorded instance of ice cream was in 794 during the Heian period in Japan. It was written in a book that included a recipe for flavored ice. 

In this article, I’ll take a look at the history of ice cream in Asia and how it spread from Japan to other countries.

Ice cream in asia

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The Sweet History of Ice Cream in Asia

During the Heian period (794-1185 AD) in Japan, a book was written that included a recipe for flavored ice. This appears to be the first recorded instance of ice cream in Japan. The popularity of ice cream continued to spread throughout Asia, with chefs learning new techniques and flavors during their travels.

Early Accounts of Ice Cream in Asia

Prior to the sixteenth century, accounts of ice cream and sorbets exist in Indian and Persian literature. It is said that King Tang of Shang in China had a taste for chilled desserts and opened the first ice cream production facility. The Dutch also played a role in the spread of ice cream in Asia, bringing their own recipes and techniques to the region.

Asian Desserts That Will Give Ice Cream a Run for Its Money

Mochi is a popular Japanese dessert that is made of glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet fillings like red bean paste, ice cream, or fruit. It has a soft and chewy texture that is similar to ice cream, but with a unique taste and texture that sets it apart. Mochi ice cream has become a popular dessert in recent years, with various flavors like green tea, strawberry, and chocolate.

Halo-Halo

Halo-Halo is a Filipino dessert that literally means “mix-mix.” It is a colorful dessert that consists of shaved ice, evaporated milk, sweet beans, fruits, and jellies. It is a refreshing and sweet dessert that is perfect for hot summer days. The combination of different textures and flavors makes it a unique dessert that is worth trying.

Bingsu

Bingsu is a Korean dessert that is similar to shaved ice, but with a twist. It is made of shaved ice that is topped with sweetened condensed milk, fruits, and other toppings like red bean paste, mochi, and nuts. It has a creamy and sweet taste that is similar to ice cream, but with a lighter texture.

Taiwanese Shaved Ice

Taiwanese shaved ice is a popular dessert in Taiwan that is made of shaved ice that is topped with various toppings like fresh fruits, sweet beans, and condensed milk. It has a light and fluffy texture that is similar to snow, and it is a refreshing dessert that is perfect for hot summer days.

Conclusion

So that’s the history of ice cream in Asia. It’s a delicious treat that’s been around for centuries and shows no signs of going away soon. 

It’s been a part of many cultures for a long time now and has become a favorite throughout the region. So the next time you’re feeling adventurous, why not give it a try?

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.