Get The Scoop On These Ice Cream Words

Freeze! Time to learn some words...

As the mercury heats up in the summer, there are few better ways to cool off than some ice cream. So it’s only fitting that National Ice Cream Day falls on July 18, and Ice Cream Month spans the entirety of July.

Sure, you’ve likely had an ice cream or two (or, frankly, an uncountable number of times). But how much do you really know about the treat and all of its many variations?

"ice cream" vs. "iced cream"

You probably already know what ice cream is. To clarify, ice cream is defined as a frozen food with cream or milk and butterfat, sugar, flavoring, and sometimes eggs.

Was ice cream originally referred to as iced cream, and is there a difference? Records for both words can be found around the same time, and are much older than you may have guessed—the late 1600s.

Here’s two big scoops of grammar: in iced cream, iced is an (originally participial) adjective, whereas the ice in ice cream is an attributive noun (also known as a noun adjunct, a noun that comes before and modifies another noun).

Some word historians do think iced cream came first and lost its -d. In that event, the loss of that sound isn’t too surprising, as it comes before the mouthful of a consonant cluster, cr- in cream, and sounds have a regular way of falling off (this is called elision) in everyday speech.

Iced tea and iced coffee (tea and coffee cooled or prepared with ice) are often pronounced ice tea and ice coffee—and increasingly being written that way.

Today, you’re unlikely to come across anything other than ice cream. The spelling caught up with the common pronunciation over time, and thus we ended up with the much more flowing ice cream instead of iced cream.

Why is it spelled "sundae"?

A sundae is like ice cream dressed up in its Sunday best. The treat is simply ice cream with syrup and other toppings like nuts, fruit, and whipped cream on top. The dessert (and its name) date back to America in 1890–95, though the true origin is disputed.

Some say it was first created in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, while others say it was an ice cream parlor employee in Ithaca, New York, who first made the dish. The origin of the spelling is just as murky. It could be that it was a variation on Sunday that was created to get around religious blue laws that outlawed selling ice cream sodas on the Sabbath. Another line of thinking is that the original sundaes were made on Mondays using the previous Sunday’s leftover ice cream.

One thing that’s not up for debate? That it’s hard not to love a good sundae.


Something that is up for debate, though, is whether pies or cakes are better. Learn more about the desserts and which one you may prefer to eat with ice cream.


This beloved Italian style of ice cream can now be found around the world. Gelato translates literally to the Italian word for “frozen,” and it was first recorded in 1930–35. In a way, it’s defined by one specific thing that it lacks, and that’s air. Gelato has almost no air, which makes it more dense and rich than other styles of ice cream—something every gelato fan is already well aware of.

sherbet vs. sorbet

At first glance at the words sorbet and sherbet, you’d be forgiven for thinking they might be the same thing. Though similar and sharing a common origin, the two words and desserts are different.

Sherbet, pronounced  [ shur-bit ], sometimes pronounced [ shur-burt ] and spelled sherbert,  is a traditional Middle Eastern drink made with sweetened fruit juice that’s been diluted with water and ice. In Western cultures today, sherbet refers to a sweetened fruit juice or purée that has milk or cream added, as well as occasionally egg white or gelatin.

Sorbet, on the other hand, comes from French where it’s pronounced [ sawr-be ] or [ sawr-bey ] in English. It comes from the Italian word of the same meaning, sorbetto, and in turn Turkish şerbet, which means “cool drink.” A sorbet is made with a fruit or vegetable juice or purée and doesn’t have dairy. It’s often eaten as a palate cleanser as well as a dessert.

Is "frozen yogurt" ice cream?

Ice cream isn’t the only option in town when it comes to frozen desserts. There’s also frozen yogurt (sometimes shortened to fro-yo), which looks similar but isn’t the same and can sometimes be sold with some bold health claims that it’s not as unhealthy as ice cream. Frozen yogurt, a term that was first recorded in 1965–70, is made by replacing all or most of the cream used in ice cream with, you guessed it, yogurt. In other words, instead of ice cream, it’s ice yogurt.

Both are made with dairy and sugar, but frozen yogurt typically has a lower fat content. It may, however, have even more sugar than ice cream.

Rocky road and other popular styles

Rocky road is one of the more common flavors that you’ll see outside of plain vanilla and chocolate ice cream. It’s made by mixing chocolate ice cream with marshmallows and chopped almonds. Though the exact origin is, well, rocky, it’s thought that it originated in Kansas in the 1920s, making it a much older concoction than modern flavors like bubblegum.

Ice cream eaters are spoiled for choices when choosing ice cream flavors. Other popular options include cookies and cream (vanilla mixed with chocolate cookies that have a cream-based filling), mint chocolate chip (mint with chocolate chips), and cookie dough (vanilla with cookie dough mixed in).

Another common ice cream flavor is three flavors in one: Neapolitan ice cream, which is made with a layer each of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The flavor (and the name) comes from the people of Naples, who are called Neapolitans. The story goes that Neapolitan immigrants brought their desserts to America in the 1800s, including an ice cream called spumone made with three flavors of ice cream. Ice cream makers swapped in popular American flavors, leading to the tri-color ice cream that’s in grocery store freezers today.

What about soft serve?

Soft serve is a type of ice cream that’s usually made without eggs. It is, as the name suggests, softer than your average ice cream but still rigid enough to hold its shape. It’s made with a machine that adds air while freezing it, and it contains at least 10 percent milk fat.

What’s so French about French vanilla?

Vanilla ice cream is a classic. Yet people are often confronted with a choice in their vanilla style: regular vanilla ice cream or French vanilla ice cream. Both use either vanilla beans or vanilla extract. However, French vanilla has a base with egg yolks mixed in, while the former doesn’t. This means that it has a yellow tinge and a smoother consistency.


Let’s sample some facts about another favorite food with a similar name: French fries. How much do you know about how this pinnacle of snack foods is enjoyed globally?

custard vs. ice cream

Along with gelato, frozen yogurt, and just plain old ice cream, there’s also frozen custard. Frozen custard contains the same ingredients as ice cream—eggs, sugar, and milk—but the composition has more than 1.4 percent egg yolk compared to ice cream’s less than 1.4 percent egg yolk. This makes frozen custard thicker and smoother.

Frozen isn’t the only way to eat custard. It can also be baked or boiled. Custard comes from Middle English around the years 1400–50, and the word is a variant on crustade, which is a kind of pie.

milk shakes and other types of drinkable ice cream

A milk shake is a frothy drink that’s made with milk, whatever flavoring you’re in the mood for, and ice cream. The ingredients are all shaken or blended together until it’s a consistency that’s liquidy enough to be slurped through a straw. The name is an Americanism that dates back to 1885–90.

In parts of the northeastern US, another word is commonly used: frappe [ frap ]. This comes from the French frappé (pronounced [ fra-pey ]), but it’s a little different than the original. The French version is either made with a frozen fruit juice mixture blended to an ice cream-like consistency. It can also refer to an after-dinner drink of shaved ice topped with crème de menthe or another liqueur.

A scrumptious word list

With the variations and styles cleared up, expand your ice cream knowledge with this list of related words and definitions.


Have you filled up on all these sweet terms? Then take our quiz (while enjoying an ice cream cone, we hope!) to find out how well you ate up these facts.

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