Without a doubt, one of the most common questions we get from our customers is helping them to distinguish between ice cream and gelato.
Yes, of course they're both absolutely delicious but ice cream and gelato are more different than most people realize.
Many people think that gelato is just a fancy Italian name for ice cream. But ice cream vs gelato, especially when you get into the more exotic and fruit flavors, couldn't be more different from each other.
This post should give you all the background and facts you need to distinguish between ice cream vs. gelato, and vice versus.
Ice Cream vs Gelato: The Quick Guide
Here is what constitutes ice cream and what constitutes gelato.
Gelato Is More Dense
Gelato is churned at a much slower rate than ice cream. This slower churn process incorporates less air and leaves gelato much more dense than ice cream.
Different Serving Temperatures
Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so its texture stays silkier and softer. Ice cream is served colder to hold the scoops together better.
Different Fat Percentage
Gelato has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream.
Here's more detail for those that want a deeper dive:
The Common Bond That All Frozen Desserts Share
If you face a dilemma every time you go to buy a frozen dessert, you’re not alone. It’s easy to get confused between gelato, ice cream, sherbet and all the other concoctions simply because there are so many different products to choose from.
To make things simpler, we’ll start with the basics.
The basis of all frozen desserts is a sugar syrup.
The various ingredients and flavors are what characterizes and distinguish frozen desserts from each other.
A frozen dessert that consists of nothing but sugar syrup and flavor is referred to as Italian ice, water ice, or sorbet.
When you add a small amount of milk to a product, then it becomes sherbet.
Ice cream and gelato are both frozen dairy desserts which may make it seem like they’re very similar. But that's where their similarity stops.
Ice Cream: Smooth, Light and Creamy
Ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert made of milk, cream, sugar, and usually egg yolks. American-style ice cream didn't initially contain eggs however, American ice cream has now evolved to also include the yolks.
The ingredients in ice cream are first cooked together into a rich custard. After the custard base is cooled, it's churned at a fairly high speed to incorporate air and increase its volume.
Ice cream is served at a cold temperature that help to make the scoops hold together.
The finished product is smooth, light-textured, and creamy.
How Does Ice Cream Gets its Super Smooth and Creamy Consistency?
The word that’s used to describe the process that the liquid cream mixture goes through before freezing is “overrun.” “Overrun” refers to the process of whipping the mixture so that its volume increases in proportion to the amount of air that is whipped into the mixture.
Federal regulations prohibit ice cream manufacturers from having more than 100 percent overrun, an amount that doubles the volume of the liquid base.
Ice cream is whipped with a paddle that moves around in a circle, going very fast as it does so. During this process, the air that is beaten into the ice cream not only contributes to the smooth and creamy texture; it also lets the ice cream harden in the freezer.
This certainly makes it easier for large ice cream producers to transport their products around the country, we feel that although less convenient and more labor intensive to manufacture, small batch ice cream produces more flavor and a better texture.
Official US Ice Cream Standards
Making Ice Cream that Conforms to the “Code of Federal Regulations”
All ice cream manufacturers in the United States must adhere to specific criteria, as it is outlined in the “Code of Federal Regulations.” The code has guidelines to which ice cream makers must adhere in order to label or sell their products as "ice cream".
Frozen dairy desserts are fortified with condensed or powdered milk and/or cream. When a product is fortified with enough milk and cream to give it a fat content of at least 10 percent, then it meets the USDA legal definition for ice cream. Gelato has a fat content of between three and eight percent so it can not ever be labeled as ice cream.
Two of the most important requirements of that official code are as follows:
• Any product sold as “ice cream” in the United States must have a minimum fat content of at least 10 percent.
• Ice cream products that are made in the United States must have a minimum milk solid content of 20 percent.
The U.S. government further stipulates that products that are marketed as ice cream can’t have any fat other than the fat contained in the flavors that are added to the dairy mixture, and the milk fat that the government requires of products that purport to be ice cream.
In some countries, American ice cream is referred to as “dairy ice cream.”
So Then What is Gelato: Dense, Silky and Soft
Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream.
It starts out with a similar custard base as ice cream, but has a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all).
Gelato is churned at a much slower rate, incorporating less air and leaving the gelato denser than ice cream.
Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so its texture stays silkier and softer.
Gelato has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, because of this the main flavor ingredient shines through. This is why ice cream has more variety of mixed flavors and ingredients.
Gelato has a much softer texture, but some people describe the taste as denser.
The manner in which gelato is whipped is different from that of ice cream. First of all, the paddle moves up and down, and it moves very slowly compared to the rate at which traditional ice cream is spun.
Ultimately, gelato has far less air in it than ice cream.
This characteristic makes it more difficult to transport in bulk, even in refrigerated trucks. When you buy gelato in a large grocery store freezer, you may be buying a product that contains stabilizers to aid in transport.
This is also a benefit of eCreamery's small batch gelato.
Gelato Recipes Differ By Region:
Traditional Italian gelato recipes differ from region to region.
Gelato products that are made in the United States tend to have a higher ratio of milk to cream than ice cream, which is the opposite.
Southern Italian gelato, such as that which you might find in Sicily, is made without egg yolks. The typical ingredients in southern Italian gelato might include milk, fruit, sugar, and cornstarch. The cornstarch is used as a stabilizer.
If you venture to Northern Italy, you’ll find that the gelato that is made in the Dolomite region is made with egg yolks and cream.
What Taste's Better - Gelato vs Ice Cream?
That question is impossible to answer. It’s kind of like trying to compare apples and oranges, or champagne and caviar.
They are both frozen dairy treats, and they both come in a range of flavors and flavor combinations that probably exceeds any amount you can begin to imagine.
The only way you’re going to find out what you like best is by trying both, and by allowing yourself to savor the flavors as you revel in frozen dairy bliss.
To avoid confusing your palate with such deliciousness, you may want to try each product separately so you can enjoy each one in its full glory, all alone.
Luckily, eCreamery has both small batch custom ice cream and small batch custom gelato. So you can try the exact flavors you love, and get them shipped right to your door.