The Scoop on Kakigori

As the rainy season comes to an end, and Japan enters the height of it’s hot and humid summer, one dessert with a surprisingly long history comes to the cultural forefront. Kakigori, or Japanese shaved ice, can be found all over the place. Available from specialty shops, family restaurants, food carts on the sides of roads, and even from hand cranked machines kept in people’s homes, this frozen sweet treat is the perfect cooling companion for those hot and sticky days.

Kakigori has been enjoyed in Japan for over a thousand years. The first written record of kakigori was made in The Pillow Book, a collection of lists, gossip, poetry, observations, and complaints written by Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting in the Imperial Court during the Heian Period. At the time of Shonagon's writing, kakigori was shaved into a large bowl with a knife and topped with sap from hydrangea and ivy, along with a type of golden syrup popular at the time. Because ice preservation in that era was so difficult, kakigori was an extremely precious dessert that only the very wealthy and aristocratic could afford. For that reason, kakigori was for the most part only consumed by members of the Imperial Court until methods of ice creation and storage advanced in the 19th century. Advances in ice storage, along with the successful transportation of ice from Hokkaido to mainland Japan, led to ice being much more widely accessible to the public during the summer and the first designated kakigori shop is said to have opened in Yokohama in 1869.

Unlike American ice based desserts such as water ice, which are made from water that has already been flavored prior to freezing, kakigori begins as a block of pure untouched ice. The ice for kakigori is often made with water collected from designa