If you’ve heard of Neapolitan ice cream, then you’ve heard of harlequin ice cream. They both refer to eye-appealing assemblies of multiple ice cream flavors. Traditionally, a trio of flavors is layered together, but two flavors constitute harlequin ice cream, as well. It’s the perfect choice for an indecisive ice cream-lover who just can’t decide between chocolate and vanilla, with the wild card temptation of strawberry ever-present.

A Scoop of Harlequin History

The word harlequin originally refers to a jester or joker. Because of the bright, diversely colored costumes of these comedic actors, the word is also used as an adjective to describe something of many bright hues. This is how the bold colorful stripes of ice cream earned the name “harlequin.” More commonly, this type of ice cream is known as Neapolitan, meaning it originates in Naples, Italy.

What Makes Ice Cream Harlequin?

The defining factor of harlequin or Neapolitan ice cream is multiple layers of different flavors. Most commonly, Neapolitan or harlequin ice cream refers to chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavors. Loosely, however, Neapolitan- or harlequin-style ice cream can imply any layered assembly of two or more flavors.

Seek It Out

You can usually find at least one carton of harlequin ice cream labeled “Neapolitan” in the freezer of any major grocery store. If you’re at an ice cream shop, simply order three scoops of different flavors. Or make this type of ice cream at home by layering slightly softened ice cream in a loaf pan lined with parchment or wax paper. Spread the first layer, smoothing the top with a spoon. Then freeze it for about 30 minutes to set, and repeat with the remaining layers.

Harlequin Desserts

Don’t stop with plain ice cream. If you love the trifecta of three flavors—especially chocolate, strawberry and vanilla—look for recipes for other forms of harlequin and Neapolitan-style desserts. Make harlequin ice cream pie, ice cream cake or ice cream sandwiches. Or really think outside the carton with a harlequin cheesecake or cake.