Welcome to ‘Ice Cream Nation,’ a Celebration of Our Favorite Dessert

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Food

PHOTO: Felicia Perretti/Offset

America is a deeply divided country. Nothing highlights that better than the current political climate. But regardless of our age, race, religion, or economic status, there is one thing we all agree upon: ice cream.

We love ice cream. According to IBISWorld, Americans gobbled up $8 billion worth of the frozen stuff last year.

As much as we covet ice cream today, our ancestors did too. It’s said that ice cream dates back to at least 200 B.C., when the Chinese made an early version with rice and milk using snow to chill the mixture. The Quakers are believed to have brought ice cream to America, and it was later popularized by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and first lady Dolly Madison, who loved oyster ice cream. Odd flavors are all the rage today, but recipes for Parmesan ice cream, asparagus ice cream, and chestnut ice cream could be found in 18th-century cookbooks.

As time went on, tastes got simpler and vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry were the flavors of choice. Ice cream was a basic and relatively affordable treat, and if you wanted something a little more exotic or creative, a sundae might do it for you. Premium ice cream (meaning pricy) became a thing in the 1980s thanks to brands with fancy Scandanavian-sounding made-up names, such as Haagen-Dazs and Frusen Gladje. (Anybody remember Frusen Gladje?) Ben & Jerry’s took things one step further — and wackier — with the amped-up Phish Food, Chubby Hubby, and Cherry Garcia. Fans of the unapologetically liberal brand might be surprised to learn that when Ben & Jerry’s launched in Burlington, Vt., back in 1978, its first flavor was … vanilla.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Steve’s ice Cream

Fast forward to 2015 and the ice cream category continues to grow and evolve. At Yahoo Food, every few days we hear about another new ice cream brand and ice cream parlor popping up somewhere in the country. Newcomers on the scene, such as Jeni’s Splendid, Big Gay Ice Cream, Van Leeuwen, Smitten, and Ample Hills are expanding and it’s not unusual to see lines out the door at each of their shops.

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Photo: Courtesy of Smitten Ice Cream

The popularity of vegan cuisine and healthy eating has resulted in an explosion of non-dairy ice creams made of coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk, and even bananas. These once niche items can now be found in most traditional supermarkets.

To celebrate, we’re launching “Ice Cream Nation,” Yahoo Food’s weeklong exploration of America’s favorite treat. We’re taking a look at the ice cream entrepreneurs catching our eye, the recipes you can easily make at home (without an ice cream maker!), and the trends you might not have heard about just yet. (Rolled-up ice cream, anyone?)

We’ve even worked with the Yahoo Insights team on a study about America’s ice cream preferences. We found out just how much this country loves ice cream, what the top flavors are, whether the cup or the cone rules, and how often we indulge. Check out our findings in the Yahoo Food “Ice Cream Nation” report.

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PHOTO: Courtesy of Morganstern’s Ice Cream

Enjoy our coverage and be sure to tell us about your favorite flavor, brand, or ice cream parlor. Let us know in the comments or on Instagram or Twitter at @YahooFood. And here’s to the one thing we all love.

Do you love ice cream? Tell us in the comments below. Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest and share your thoughts and favorite ice cream photos!

More icy treats from Yahoo Food:

Raspberry and Banana Instant Ice Cream

Blackberry Blackout No-Churn Ice Cream Cake

Why Hot Fudge Doesn’t Belong on a Sundae