Why Is It Called Neapolitan Ice Cream?

Neapolitan ice cream has a fascinating history that dates back many years. Its origins come from Naples, Italy during the 1800s. For people unfamiliar with the word Neapolitan, it means “a native of Naples” or “of Naples”.

Neapolitan ice cream derives its name from its place of origin, the charming region of Naples. Interestingly, it’s likely that individuals residing outside of Naples were the ones responsible for its name, as a way to pay homage to the iconic Italian city and to acknowledge the delightful origins of this ice cream flavor.

Spumoni ice cream, which was being produced in Italy in the 1800s, is likely what influenced Neapolitan ice cream to be first made. Spumoni’s flavors typically included chocolate, pistachio, and cherry, all layered together to create a colorful and sought after treat.

It’s easy to see how the tri-colors and flavors of spumoni influenced Neapolitan we know today consisting of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream flavors.

The Birth of Neapolitan

It’s difficult to say when Neapolitan was first invented. We certainly have references from America and Europe that date to the 19th century.

Jennifer Harvey Lang notes the following in her book titled Larousse Gastronomique, which dates the ice cream or at least the style of ice cream to at least the early 1800s,

Neapolitan slice. A slice of ice-cream cake made with mousse mixture and ordinary ice cream, presented in a small pleated paper case. Neapolitan ice cream consists of three layers, each of a different color and flavor (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), molded into a block and cut into slices. Neapolitan ice-cream makers were famous in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century, especially Tortoni, creator of numerous ice-cream cakes.”

In America, it seems to have started to become popular around the 1870s. In Stuart Berg Flexner’s book titled I Hear American Talking, he states the following, “Neapolitan ice cream, different flavored layers frozen together….[was] being first being talked about in the 1870s.”

The New York Times first reference to Neapolitan occurred in 1887 in regard to the appearance of a dress made with pink and white stripes. This indicates that by at least the late 1880s, Neapolitan ice cream was likely widely known in America, at least in the more populated areas like New York.

Neapolitan Ice Cream Popularity

Neapolitan ice cream is certainly not America’s favorite ice cream flavor today. But after all of these years in existence, it still ranks strong in polls for a favorite flavor.

Based on data from YouGov of 1,000 adults in the United States, vanilla and chocolate rank as the top two flavors, respectively. The other component of Neapolitan, strawberry ice cream, comes in at number 4.

But, where does Neapolitan rank? It comes in at 10 with 30% polled who say they like the flavor and 2% indicating that they view it as their favorite flavor. Check out the full ranking via KRQE for the top 21 most popular ice cream flavors in the U.S.

Food Timeline FAQ: Ice Cream. The food timeline: History notes–ice cream. (n.d.). https://www.foodtimeline.org/foodicecream.html#neapolitan