Dessert is a typically sweet course that concludes an evening meal. The course usually consists of sweet foods, but may include other items. In world cultures there are a wide variety of desserts including cakes, tarts, cookies, biscuits, gelatins, pastries, ice creams, pies, puddings, custards, and sweet soups. Fruit is also commonly found in dessert courses because of its naturally occurring sweetness.
Desserts were first made using natural ingredients that were locally available. In ancient civilizations people enjoyed dried fruits, honeycomb, or nuts. These were considered the first candies. When sugar began to be manufactured in the Middle Ages more sweet desserts became available. Even then sugar was so expensive usually only the wealthy could indulge on special occasions. Ice cream can be dated back to 3000BC and may be considered to be an early “dessert” in the modern sense of the word. The first apple pie recipe was printed in 1381. Also in 1740 the first cupcake recipes were recorded. Ice cream was a Chinese invention although Marco Polo expanded the technique to Europe in his travels. By the 1800s, recipes for how to make ice cream were very popular. Vanilla also plays a large role in many desserts including ice cream. Vanilla was mostly grown in Mexico where they discovered if the vanilla pod was picked and dried then vanillin was produced which can be sweetened into a dessert on its own.
Desserts are constantly changing with the new techniques and ingredients available at the time or in the local area. They have changed from natural candies and nuts to complex souffles and multi-layered cakes. The ingredients available affect the range of desserts that can be made in each region. The first desserts required minimal effort or preparation since ancient cultures were more focused on the nutrition in foods in order to survive. Now, however, modern day cultures have more options in the desserts available. Ice Cream went from being a shaved ice substance with flavoring to the dairy based, sweet treat modern children crave. Desserts also went through a major change in manufacturing. The Industrial Revolution in America and Europe changed desserts (and food in general) because they began to be mass-produced, processed, preserved, canned, and packaged. The iconic foods soon became a staple in many households because of their availability. Frozen foods became very popular starting in the 1920s when freezing emerged. Also around the 1920s lunch counters and fast food restaurants were established with increasing popularity. These processed foods became a huge part of diets in many industrialized nations. Food has always varied with each culture and area, and, despite the boom in mass-produced processed desserts, they have still represented regional and ethnic cultures. Many countries have desserts and foods distinctive to their nations or region. One example of this is the churro historically from Spain. These sticks of dough are now deep fried. They are available all throughout North and South America along with many other areas. They started with Spanish shepherds as a substitute for bread. Now they have been passed through generations and cultures and changed to a sweet confection different for each culture.