How long have the Greeks had a love affair with ice cream? How about since at least one hundred years before Alexander the Great?
In fact, ancient Greeks were attracted to “ices” as early as the fifth century BC.
In those years, ices were actually honey and fruit-flavored snow, and they were wildly popular among Greeks in Athens’ central market, spreading quickly throughout the Aegean world.
Alexander the Great, born in 356 BC, reportedly ate his share of ices while growing up as the son of the king of Macedon, Philip II. According to legends which have survived to this day, his favorite ice was flavored with honey and nectar.
Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, who was born in 460 BC, spoke well of this delicacy, encouraging his patients to eat ice “as it livens the life juices and increases the well-being.”
In modern times, Greeks have also sought to improve on ice cream, creating Pagoto Kaimaki, made from the resin of the mastic tree to deliver a chewy texture, and adding salepi, or orchid root, which delays the melting of the product.
Today in Greece, there is even an Olive Oil ice cream with figs, Pagoto Kataifi Chocolate ice cream, made from shredded filo dough, and Mavrodaphne Ice Cream, which is blended with Greek dessert wines.
Similar to this dessert are the unique fruit and mastic-flavored Spoon Sweets, once always given to visitors at people’s homes as part of everyday hospitality, and now popular outside of Greece as well.