Backstory: Ice cream by the numbers

July is National Ice Cream Month – it's also just an excuse to delve into the sweet details of everyone's year-round favorite indulgence.

Cool Cravings

98 percent of American households buy ice cream at least once a year.

$21.4 billion worth of ice cream and frozen desserts were licked, scooped, and gobbled up by Americans in 2004.

1.6 billion gallons of ice cream and frozen desserts were produced in the US in 2004.

9 percent of total US milk production went to making frozen dairy products in 2005.

America's Favorite Flavors

1. Vanilla, 29%

2. Chocolate, 8.9%

3. Butter Pecan, 5.3%

4. Strawberry, 5.3%

5. Neopolitan, 4.2%

Chilling Effects

21 seconds: Average length of an ice cream brain freeze, which typically strikes 12.5 seconds after eating ice cream too quickly.

Foreign Favorites

In England, bacon and egg ice cream was a key reason Restaurant magazine dubbed The Fat Duck – with a menu full of quirky items – the "World's Best Restaurant" in 2005.

Brazil's ice cream parlors often sell "by the kilo." This self-serve system lets buyers pack any flavor they want into small cups or hugebuckets to take home.

Madagascar produces 80 percent of the vanilla used to flavor ice cream in the US.

Mexico's creameries jazz up ice cream with the same spices that give all Mexican food its pizazz: chili, tamarind, and lime.

In China, dairy scarcely registered in anyone's diet 10 years ago, but it's now a status symbol. Häagen-Dazs, for example, is a big date destination for wealthy college students, who'll plop down $30 for an "ice cream hot pot" – a platter of different flavors dipped in a heated pot of chocolate fondue.

Venezuela's Heladería Coromoto ice cream parlor boasts more than 830 flavors – among them, tuna, chili, and rose petal.

In Israel, if you run into someone twice on the street by accident, it's customary to say "Pa'am shlishit glida" – "Third time ice cream," meaning if there's a third random run-in you will just have to sit for sundaes.

Guinness World Records

4.55 miles: Length of the longest banana split, which ran down Market Street, Selinsgrove, Pa. on April 30, 1988. The 24,000 bananas, 2,500 gallons of ice cream, 600 pounds of chopped nuts, and 24,000 cherries amounted to 12.9 million calories.

8,959 pounds: Weight of the largest ice cream cake (7 feet tall and 53 feet long), served by Baskin Robbins in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on July 14, 1999.

9.3 ounces: The most ice cream eaten in 30 seconds, set by American Diego Siu, in Orlando, Fla. on March 2, 2003. He used a teaspoon.

By any other name...

In New England, milkshakes come in a wide variety of names. Bostonians call this wicked good drink a frappe, possibly named after the French frozen drink frappé. Around half of Rhode Islanders ask for a cabinet, named after where they hide the blender. Other New Englanders sometimes call it a velvet, describing the drink's smooth texture.

...Would taste as sweet

New Englanders also have their own word for sprinkles too: jimmies. But that's only for the chocolate kind – rainbow sprinkles are just sprinkles.

In Scotland, this tiny topping is known as hundreds-and-thousands. Mexicans dip their cones in chispas, Spanish for "sparks." French Canadians call them les decorettes, literally "little decorations." And the Dutch put hagelslag – or "pellets" – on both their ice cream cones and their sandwiches.

Frozen in Time

1790 – President George Washington spends about $200 (more than $2,300 adjusted for inflation)on ice cream that summer alone.

1880s – Methodist ministers in Evanston, Ill. preached against drinking ice cream sodas on Sunday. They thought carbonated water was too indulgent. Parlor owners tried to escape the church's ire by pushing a new soda-free ice cream treat that people could enjoy on the Sabbath. They called it a Sundae.

1896 – Italo Marchiony, an Italian immigrant living in New York City, made the first ice cream cone. At first, Marchiony served ice cream from his pushcart in glass bowls, but he switched to baked waffle cups because customers kept breaking or stealing the expensive dishes.

1984 – President Ronald Reagan proclaimed July National Ice Cream Month, calling this "perfect dessert" a "nutritious and wholesome food."

1987 – Ice cream chain Ben & Jerry's began donating their factory's leftovers to a pig farm in Stowe, Vt. The happy hogs chow down on all the flavors except mint Oreo – turns out pigs don't like mint.

Ever vigilant in the pursuit of truth – no matter how sticky the job gets – Backstory conducted a very unscientific study of how many licks it takes to polish off an ice cream cone. Eighteen staff guinea pigs were enlisted to lap up single-scoop chocolate ice cream cones – while concentrating hard enough to count their licks.

One online source claims that the average is 50 licks per scoop. But we hit a counting snag: People bite. Not eager to debate how bites figured into our equation while our precious ice cream began to melt, we decided to count both bites and licks.

Final tally: It took an average of 25.5 licks and 9.8 bites to down a single-scoop cone. The margin of error (which was huge) is proportionate to the variation in scoop size (which was huge). Male and female staffers took about an equal number of bites (9.6 for women to 10.3 for men). However, women took far more licks than men (29.3 for women to 19.7 for men).

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