11 Refreshing Facts about Gelato


Italy deserves major kudos for the culinary gifts—pizza, pasta, and pesto, to name a few—it has bestowed upon the world. But nothing instantly improves a hot summer day like savoring a cup (or cone) of gelato. Read on for 11 facts you might not know about the dense, refreshing dessert.


In Italian, the word congelato means frozen, and the word congelare means to freeze. Although gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, it’s not merely Dreyer’s with a European, artisanal flair. Like ice cream, gelato contains milk, sugar, and flavorings such as fruit or nuts, but it has less cream than ice cream and usually no egg yolks.


Although we don’t know the exact origins of gelato, ancient peoples in China and Egypt added fruit and salt to snow to make a primitive cold dessert. Ancient Roman emperors reportedly ate similar desserts, and this type of dessert is one of the myriad of culinary inventions that Catherine de' Medici is credited (rightly or wrongly) with bringing from Florence to Paris upon her 1533 marriage to the future King of France. But the lack of milk (Italians had used water instead) meant that early gelato more closely resembled sorbetto (a.k.a. sorbet).


In 1686, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a Sicilian fisherman and chef from Palermo, made the first gelato machine. He opened a café in Paris, called Café Procope, which sold gelato and coffee to Parisians and literary thinkers including Voltaire and Rousseau. Amazingly, you can still visit Café Procope, and the restaurant now serves dishes such as duck foie gras, beef tartare, and snails.


Most people love that gelato miraculously contains less fat than regular ice cream but seems to taste more flavorful. As gelato expert Morgan Morano told NPR, gelato is softer, smoother, and denser than ice cream because less air is churned into it, and it has less butterfat. “Butterfat coats your palate, and if you have less of it you can taste the flavors more quickly,” Morano explained.


Gelato should be stored at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. Ice cream is typically served between 0 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, while gelato is between 7 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer temperature means that gelato is soft, silky, and more pleasing to your taste buds; your tongue is less numbed by the cold, so you can better appreciate the flavor.


If you want authentic gelato, don’t buy it from a shop that uses ice cream scoops. Instead, gelato should be scooped with a spade or paddle. The flat surface is better equipped to gently scoop up your flavor of choice. “Not only can you work gelato with the spade to soften it up, but there's a whole artistry,” Morano said.


Whether you’re ordering gelato in Italy (or at an authentic gelateria elsewhere), you should know gelato-related terminology. If you’re in need of a serious dose of caffeine, order affogato. You’ll get a scoop of gelato doused in espresso. If you want to make your gelato extra decadent, opt for gelato con panna to get gelato topped with whipped cream. And for an Italian ice cream sandwich, order brioche con gelato.


Every other year, international teams compete at the Gelato World Cup (called Coppa del Mondo della Gelateria in Italian). Teams from countries including Japan, Morocco, the United States, Spain, and Poland traveled to Italy to compete in the most recent competition, in January 2016. After the teams made their best gelato dishes, sundaes, and ice sculptures, the Italian team won first place. Obviously.


In Italy, gelatai (sellers of gelato) go way beyond the typical chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Gelaterias offer a ton of fruit-based flavors, as well as richer dessert ones. Popular gelato flavors include bacio (chocolate hazelnut), stracciatella (vanilla with streaks of chocolate chip), limone (lemon), pistacchio (pistachio), fico (fig), and cocco (coconut).


Although there are plenty of weird gelato flavors in Italy, Viagra might be the weirdest. Rather than actually containing the prescription drug, Viagra gelato is made with African aphrodisiac herbs. The color is bright blue, and it reportedly tastes like either bubblegum or black licorice (anise). However, a celebrity client once requested that his prescription Viagra be included in a private batch—the gelataio estimated it cost $33 a scoop.


Between 2009 and 2014, gelato sales increased dramatically from $11 million to $214 million. More and more Americans are buying gelato, and traditional ice cream companies have jumped on the gelato train. Häagen-Dazs now offers dark chocolate chip, sea salt caramel, black cherry amaretto, and tiramisu gelato, while Breyers’ Gelato Indulgences line has salted caramel truffle, peanut butter chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, and chocolate fudge truffle. As of 2014, the gelato company Talenti is the number three seller of premium ice cream in the U.S., behind Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs.

All images via iStock.

Graham Crackers Were Invented to Combat the Evils of Coffee, Alcohol, and Masturbation

tatniz/iStock via Getty Images
tatniz/iStock via Getty Images

Long before they were used to make s’mores or the tasty crust of a Key lime pie, graham crackers served a more puritanical purpose in 19th-century America. The cookies were invented by Sylvester Graham, an American Presbyterian minister whose views on food, sex, alcohol, and nutrition would seem a bit extreme to today's cracker-snackers. Much like the mayor in the movie Chocolat, Graham and his thousands of followers—dubbed Grahamites—believed it was sinful to eat decadent foods. To combat this moral decay, Graham started a diet regimen of his own.

Graham ran health retreats in the 1830s that promoted a bland diet that banned sugar and meat. According to Refinery29, Graham's views ultimately inspired veganism in America as well as the “first anti-sugar crusade.” He condemned alcohol, tobacco, spices, seasoning, butter, and "tortured" refined flour. Caffeine was also a no-no. In fact, Graham believed that coffee and tea were just as bad as tobacco, opium, or alcohol because they created a “demand for stimulation.” However, the worst vice, in Graham's opinion, was overeating. “A drunkard sometimes reaches old age; a glutton never,” he once wrote.

Graham’s austere philosophy was informed by the underlying belief that eating habits affect people’s behaviors, and vice versa. He thought certain foods were "overstimulating" and led to impure thoughts and passions, including masturbation—or “self-pollution,” as he called it—which he believed to be an epidemic that caused both blindness and insanity.

Illustration of Sylvester Graham
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Graham's views directly influenced Victorian-era corn flake inventor John Harvey Kellogg, who was born a year after Graham died. Like his predecessor, Kellogg also believed that meat and some flavorful foods led to sexual impulses, so he advocated for the consumption of plain foods, like cereals and nuts, instead. (Unsurprisingly, the original recipes for both corn flakes and graham crackers were free of sinful sugar.)

In one lecture, Graham told young men they could stop their minds from wandering to forbidden places if they avoided “undue excitement of the brain and stomach and intestines.” This meant swearing off improper foods and substances like tobacco, caffeine, pepper, ginger, mustard, horseradish, and peppermint. Even milk was banned because it was “too exciting and too oppressive.”

So what could Graham's followers eat? The core component of Graham’s diet was bread made of coarsely ground wheat or rye, unlike the refined white flour loaves that were sold in bakeries at that time. From this same flour emerged Graham's crackers and muffins, both of which were common breakfast foods. John Harvey Kellogg was known to have eaten the crackers and apples for breakfast, and one of his first attempts at making cereal involved soaking twice-baked cracker bits in milk overnight.

Slices of rye bread, a jug of milk, apples and ears of corn on sackcloth, wooden table
SomeMeans/iStock via Getty Images

However, Kellogg was one of the few remaining fans of Graham’s diet, which began to fall out of favor in the 1840s. At Ohio’s Oberlin College, a Grahamite was hired in 1840 to strictly enforce the school’s meal plans. One professor was fired for bringing a pepper shaker to the dining hall, and the hunger-stricken students organized a protest the following year, arguing that the Graham diet was “inadequate to the demands of the human system as at present developed.” Ultimately, the Grahamite and his tyrannical nutrition plan were kicked out.

Much like Kellogg’s corn flakes, someone else stepped in and corrupted Graham’s crackers, molding them into the edible form we now know—and, yes, love—today. In Graham’s case, it was the National Biscuit Company, which eventually became Nabisco; the company started manufacturing graham crackers in the 1880s. But Graham would likely be rolling in his grave if he knew they contained sugar and white flour—and that they're often topped with marshmallows and chocolate for a truly decadent treat.

7 Tasty Facts About Tater Tots

bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images

Whether you associate them with your school cafeteria, your childhood home, or your local dive bar, tater tots are ubiquitous. Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the bite-sized pellets rival French fries for the title of most delicious potato product. But they’re more than just a tasty side dish—they’re also an upcycling success story, a casserole ingredient, and one of the few foods that’s more popular frozen than fresh. Here are some more facts about tater tots you should know.

1. The first Tater Tots were made from French fry scraps.

Brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg founded the Oregon Frozen Foods Company, later known as Ore-Ida, in Ontario, Oregon, in 1952. One of their first items was frozen French fries, and after seeing all the potato scraps they had leftover, they came up with an idea. By chopping up the potato parts, seasoning them, and molding them into pellets, they were able to create a new product. With help from a thesaurus, they landed on the name tater tot and debuted their creation in 1954.

2. Tater Tots are the main ingredient in Hotdish casserole.

Hotdish casserole with tater tots.
ALLEKO, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but in certain states, they’re part of the main course. Hotdish follows the long Midwestern tradition of tossing whatever’s in the kitchen into a casserole. It’s made by mixing together ground beef and frozen vegetables and topping it with a layer of tater tots before baking the whole dish in the oven. It’s a hearty match for Midwestern winters, plus, it’s a way to sneak more tots into your diet.

3. The name Tater Tot is trademarked.

If the golden nugget of potato-y goodness you’re eating is not Ore-Ida brand, it’s not really a tater tot. The Grigg brothers trademarked the catchy name shortly after developing the product, and Ore-Ida still holds its trademark on tater tots today. This doesn’t stop people using it as a catch-all term for the generic version of the food. Ore-Ida tried to combat this in 2014 by running an ad campaign warning customers not to “be fooled by Imi-taters.”

4. Tater Tots have different names around the world.

The all-American tater tot has spread around the globe, but it’s usually sold under a different name abroad. Tot-lovers in New Zealand and Australia may refer to them as potato gems, potato royals, potato pom-poms, or hash bites. The food is so popular in New Zealand that Pizza Hut launched a pie with a hash bite crust there in 2016. In Canada, they’re called tasti taters or spud puppies, and they’ve been labeled oven crunchies in the UK.

5. Homemade tater tot recipes may not be worth it.

Tater tots on a plate served with ketchup.
MSPhotographic, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are the ultimate convenience food—unless you try making them from scratch at home. Recipes online involve peeling and grating pounds of potatoes, frying them once, chilling them overnight, and then shaping them into tots and frying them a second time. Without the streamlined method and equipment of a factory, the process can take 12 hours. Even fine restaurants that feature tater tots on their menus often prefer the taste (and convenience) of the frozen stuff.

6. Idaho praised Napoleon Dynamite for featuring Tater Tots.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in Idaho, and one of the ways the 2004 film pays tribute to the state is by prominently featuring the tot. The State of Idaho passed a resolution in 2005 commending the makers of the film, specifically thanking them for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.”

7. The birthplace of the Tater Tot is hosting a Tater Tot festival.

Nearly 70 years after tater tots were invented there, Ontario, Oregon, is honoring its patron potato product by dedicating an entire festival to it in August 2020. The Tater Tot Festival will feature games, food vendors, and a Ferris wheel, plus special events like a tater tot-eating contest and a tater tot-themed play. The fair will end with the crowning of the tater tot festival king and queen.