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Ice cream (derived from earlier iced cream or cream ice) is a sweetened frozen food typically eaten as a snack or dessert. It is 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 sugar or sugar substitutes. Typically, flavourings and colourings are added in addition to stabilizers. The mixture is stirred to incorporate air spaces and cooled below the freezing point of water to prevent detectable ice crystals from forming. The result is a smooth, semi-solid foam that is solid at very low temperatures (<35 °F / 2 °C). It becomes more malleable as its temperature increases.

The meaning of the phrase "ice cream" varies from one country to another. Phrases such as "frozen custard", "frozen yogurt", "sorbet", "gelato" and others are used to distinguish different varieties and styles. In some countries, such as the United States, the phrase "ice cream" applies only to a specific variety, and most governments regulate the commercial use of the various terms according to the relative quantities of the main ingredients, notably the amount of cream. Products that do not meet the criteria to be called ice cream are labelled "frozen dairy dessert" instead. In other countries, such as Italy and Argentina, one word is used for all variants. Analogues made from dairy alternatives, such as goat's or sheep's milk, or milk substitutes (e.g., soy milk or tofu), are available for those who are lactose intolerant, allergic to dairy protein, or vegan.

Ice cream may be served in dishes, for eating with a spoon, or in cones, which are licked. Ice cream may be served with other desserts, such as apple pie. Ice cream is used to prepare other desserts, including ice cream floats, sundaes, milkshakes, ice cream cakes and even baked items, such as the Baked Alaska.

Ice cream is a colloidal emulsion made with water, ice, milk fat, milk protein, sugar and air. Water and fat have the highest proportions by weight creating an emulsion that has dispersed phase as fat globules. The emulsion is turned into foam by incorporating air cells which are frozen to form dispersed ice cells. The triacylglycerols in fat are non polar and will adhere to themselves by Van der Waals interactions. Water is polar, thus emulsifiers are needed for dispersion of fat. Also ice cream has a colloidal phase of foam which helps in its light texture. Milk proteins such as casein and whey protein present in ice cream are amphiphilic, can adsorb water and form micelles which will contribute to its consistency. The proteins contribute to the emulsification, aeration and texture. Sucrose which is disaccharide is usually used as a sweetening agent. Lactose which is sugar present in milk will cause freezing point depression. Thus, on freezing some water will remain unfrozen and will not give a hard texture. Too much lactose will result in a non ideal texture because of either excessive freezing point depression or lactose crystallization.

Before the development of modern refrigeration, ice cream was a luxury reserved for special occasions. Making it was quite laborious; ice was cut from lakes and ponds during the winter and stored in holes in the ground, or in wood-frame or brick ice houses, insulated by straw. Many farmers and plantation owners, including U.S. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, cut and stored ice in the winter for use in the summer. Frederic Tudor of Boston turned ice harvesting and shipping into a big business, cutting ice in New England and shipping it around the world.

Ice cream was made by hand in a large bowl placed inside a tub filled with ice and salt. This is called the pot-freezer method. French confectioners refined the pot-freezer method, making ice cream in a sorbetière (a covered pail with a handle attached to the lid). In the pot-freezer method, the temperature of the ingredients is reduced by the mixture of crushed ice and salt. The salt water is cooled by the ice, and the action of the salt on the ice causes it to (partially) melt, absorbing latent heat and bringing the mixture below the freezing point of pure water. The immersed container can also make better thermal contact with the salty water and ice mixture than it could with ice alone.

The hand-cranked churn, which also uses ice and salt for cooling, replaced the pot-freezer method. The exact origin of the hand-cranked freezer is unknown, but the first U.S. patent for one was #3254 issued to Nancy Johnson on 9 September 1843. The hand-cranked churn produced smoother ice cream than the pot freezer and did it quicker. Many inventors patented improvements on Johnson's design.

In Europe and early America, ice cream was made and sold by small businesses, mostly confectioners and caterers. Jacob Fussell of Baltimore, Maryland was the first to manufacture ice cream on a large scale. Fussell bought fresh dairy products from farmers in York County, Pennsylvania, and sold them in Baltimore. An unstable demand for his dairy products often left him with a surplus of cream, which he made into ice cream. He built his first ice cream factory in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, in 1851. Two years later, he moved his factory to Baltimore. Later, he opened factories in several other cities and taught the business to others, who operated their own plants. Mass production reduced the cost of ice cream and added to its popularity.

The development of industrial refrigeration by German engineer Carl von Linde during the 1870s eliminated the need to cut and store natural ice, and, when the continuous-process freezer was perfected in 1926, commercial mass production of ice cream and the birth of the modern ice cream industry was underway.

In modern times, a common method for producing ice cream at home is to use an ice cream maker, an electrical device that churns the ice cream mixture while cooled inside a household freezer. Some more expensive models have an built-in freezing element. A newer method is to add liquid nitrogen to the mixture while stirring it using a spoon or spatula for a few seconds; a similar technique, advocated by Heston Blumenthal as ideal for home cooks, is to add dry ice to the mixture while stirring for a few minutes. Some ice cream recipes call for making a custard, folding in whipped cream, and immediately freezing the mixture.[citation needed] Another method is to use a pre-frozen solution of salt and water, which gradually melts as the ice cream freezes.

Borden's Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk circulated a recipe for making ice cream at home. It may be made in an ice cube tray with condensed milk, cream, and various simple flavourings. It can be ready to serve after as little as four hours of freezing. Fresh or frozen fruit, nuts, chocolate, and other ingredients may be added as well.

An unusual method of making ice cream was done during World War II by American fighter pilots based in the South Pacific. They attached pairs of 5-US-gallon (19 l) cans to their aircraft. The cans were fitted with a small propeller, this was spun by the slipstream and drove a stirrer, which agitated the mixture while the intense cold of high altitude froze it. B-17 crews in Europe did something similar on their bombing runs as did others.

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