I visited Chicago’s Black Dog Gelato yesterday, propelled by a particularly fiendish sweet tooth episode. After a few bites, my dessert-averse boyfriend pointed to my gelato. “That spoon is incredibly tiny,” he remarked. At that point, I realized two things: First, my boyfriend hadn’t ordered anything, which meant I needed a new boyfriend; second, I had no idea why gelato spoons are so small. To the internet!
When I think “gelato,” I think “perfectly portioned indulgence.” I think “pretending to be fancy on a study abroad trip.” But most importantly, I think “tiny spoon.”
Though spoons vary from one gelato shop to another, I have the most experience with a very specific kind of neon plastic spoon. It’s about three inches long, and it features a flat end like that of a tiny shovel. It’s an extremely functional little apparatus—the flat end is perfect for scraping the bottom of a gelato cup—but what are its origins?
“By the Middle Ages, royalty and other wealthy people used spoons made from precious metals. In the 14th century pewter became commonly used, making spoons affordable to the general population.”
But how did we go from wrist-breakingly heavy pewter spoons to tiny neon plastic gelato spoons? The answer likely lies with the famously dainty demitasse spoon. The French lay claim to the demitasse, or “half-cup,” meant as a vessel for a teeny after-dinner cup of coffee. The demitasse spoon, even smaller than a teaspoon, was designed to accompany the demitasse cup for all your dainty stirring needs.
But the demitasse spoon is not to be confused with the traditional ice cream spoon, which, per Etiquette Scholar, is meant to accompany frozen desserts at informal meals. Like the gelato spoon, the ice cream spoon has a flat end like that of a shovel; unlike the gelato spoon, it’s a bit long, usually about five inches in length.
So, who invented the gelato spoon? Unfortunately, that genius’ name has been lost to history. At least, I couldn’t find it. But it stands to reason that frozen dessert purveyors would combine the demitasse and the ice cream spoon for an unparalleled frozen-dessert-eating experience. Plastic gelato spoons are cheap, disposable, and compact, making them a cost-effective cutlery solution for small gelato scoops.
And hey, baby—eating with a tiny spoon is continental. Takeout contributor Fran Hoepfner says it best: “A teaspoon elongates the meal. It allows you to deliver food to your taste buds in smaller bites, giving you the opportunity to take pleasure in whatever the cuisine is.” Especially if that cuisine is a generous scoop of malted vanilla from Black Dog Gelato.