Do you ever find yourself indulging in a luscious dessert and thinking what mastermind came up with this scrumptious delight? You are not alone because the question of why desserts were first eaten has crossed the minds of many, so today, we’ve compiled a short (and sweet!) history lesson for you.
The word dessert is derived from the French word desservir, which translates to “to clear the table.” This origin is apt, considering that the first use of desserts was to wash down the aftertaste of a large meal with something sweet.
Desserts in history, such as in the middle ages, revolved more around fruity sweet foods such as jellies and wafers mixed with exotic fruits, nuts, and butter. Indeed, the custard is known to be one of the first desserts ever eaten in the middle ages. The next few reported desserts include apple pies in 1381 and gingerbread in the 1400s.
Up until the 17th century, desserts were meshed together with savory dishes and were used as nothing more than palate cleansers. However, the seventeenth century saw the advent of dessert cookbooks. This spread in popularity of desserts is owed to the vast sugar plantations in the New World that allowed sugar costs to go down. With reduced sugar prices, sugar could be used abundantly for sweet foods instead of being relegated to a rare flavoring.
The 17th century also saw the move of having desserts solely reserved for the end of meals as opposed to having several small dessert courses as palate cleansers throughout. Custards eventually evolved into sweet puddings in the 19th century, and then the industrial revolution brought forward the mass production of sweet foods such as cakes.
Here are some more facts about some of our most favorite desserts today.
History of Ice Cream
Ice creams can be dated back to the 3000th century B.C. The first known instance of ice creams is probably best described as what we now know as snow cones or shaved ice. Roman Emperor Nero used to ask for fruits to put over ice as the fruity juices would enhance the sweetness.
The earliest advent of using milk for ice cream is from China in 600 AD. The exact date when ice creams like we know them today came into being is unknown, but speculations cite Marco Polo for bringing the secrets of ice creams along with his travels. The first known traditional ice cream recipes were found in the mid-1800s.
History of Chocolate
While chocolate is not a dessert in and of itself, it is a widely used ingredient in most sweet foods. Chocolate was first used for its bitter properties by the ancient Mayan civilization, however, after being introduced in Europe, it was mixed in with sugar and milk to take on the form that we know today.
In earlier history, the Aztecs even revered chocolate so much that it was used as a form of currency. The U.S colonies first saw chocolate in 1641 via a Spanish ship in what is now Florida.
Throughout history, desserts have been symbolic of wealth, aristocracy, and even military might, so I guess we should all feel honored to be able to access these sweet foods as we desire.
However, it makes you wonder how many “premium” luxury desserts there are that are still not as common for lower and middle-income families. Perhaps, there are more desserts left that are still trickling down to the lower echelons of society.
About the author, Jenna Huntsberger
Originally from Eugene, Oregon, Jenna moved to DC in 2005 to work in nonprofit communications. After deciding her real passion was pastry, she founded Whisked! in 2011, selling baked goods at a local farmer's market. Today, Whisked! cookies and pies are carried in more than 100 retail locations, and have been featured in publications like the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, and NPR.