Although the association between Kulfi and hot weather is no doubt, for many Indians, this ice cream flavor is closely associated with nostalgic childhood memories and simpler times.

“I spent all my childhood summer vacations at my maternal grandma’s home in Mumbai,” said Poonam Shah, the founder of Bombay Kulfi. “Near our home, there was always this one kulfi vendor that sold traditionally made kulfi.”

Because of regional preferences for food, frozen dessert was not readily available in Coimbatore in Coimbatore, one of the South Indian cities where Shah was born and grew up. However, those summers spent in Mumbai gave her the idea for a brand she created. In 2015, with her now business partner Manish Kankaria Shah established one of India’s biggest kulfi brands in India.

The street vendors are selling Kulfi in the summer months.

Although many think of it as a simple frozen treat, it resulted from royal lust and scientific knowledge. Its origins can be traced back, in part, to 16th-century kitchens of the Indian Mughal courts. The Ain-i Akbari is a comprehensive report of the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556-1605) is the first mention of the frozen dessert, with a wealth of information on the daily life of the court and the food items made and prepared by the royal cooks.

Indian Mughal food was heavily influenced by the food styles from Central Asia, especially Persia. The word “kulfi” derives from the Persian word “quote,” which were conical cups that would be used to make desserts. Since the 13th Century drinking drinks in summer like sherbet were chilled by using snow and ice from the Himalayas; however, that was the Arab method of using saltpeter for making the ice that the cooks of the imperial kitchen employed to make Kulfi by freezing a mix consisting of condensed milk Pistachios, and saffron.

Thanks to technological advancements, the traditional technique of saltpeter has been replaced by newer commercial refrigeration systems and pushcart freezers. Today, only a few kulfi wallahs from India use saltpeter for freezing.

“In some Indian villages, kulfi is still made and sold in the traditional way,” Shah stated, “but rarely is that method seen in the cities.”

Although Kulfi is mentioned in Ain-i-Akbari, the roots still need to be clarified. In light of its influence on Persian food, it’s possible that the idea of a frozen dessert could originate from the cooler regions, such as Persia and Samarkand in the summer, where similar desserts such as Faloodeh (also called the paloodeh), as well as sorbet, were famous from 400 to 500 BCE. According to the food expert Charmaine O’Brien, “the Mughals appropriated the concept and elaborated on it to create the creamy, perfumed dessert that it is now.”

Whatever the place where it originated, for many Indians, it is a pity that taking Kulfi to be the Indian version of Western ice cream is a bit naive, in particular, because the former was probably invented before the introduction of ice cream to the West. Furthermore, there’s a clear difference in the preparation method and its texture.

“Kulfi is completely different from ice cream,” said Abhishek Gupta, the Leela Ambience Gurugram Hotel and Residences executive chef in the Gurugram District, one of Delhi’s most important satellite cities. “Kulfi is a cold dessert made from dairy, which is just frozen. The mixture is usually flavoured milk (cardamom, saffron, pistachio, rose petals) that is slowly cooked in a kadai (wok), which reduces the milk and eventually condenses it. The slow cooking makes the sugar caramelise. The mixture is poured in moulds and then frozen. To speed up the process, the mould is submerged in ice and salt. This freezing method gives Kulfi its distinctive smooth, soft, creamy taste, free of crystals.”

However, Gupta explained that ice cream is a dairy dessert made by churning milk using a variety of flavors, including sugar and cream, and then freezing. The way of serving Kulfi and ice cream differs. Kulfi can be de-molded, cut in half, and decorated with nuts, syrups, and saffron, whereas ice cream is usually scooped out and served in cones or bowls.

It is a thing that both ice cream and Kulfi share in common. However, they’ve been the subject of numerous research and development. Even with the multiple flavors of Kulfi, the traditional recipe of pistachio-flavored Kulfi has continued to be the most popular.