What’s the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

Do you prefer gelato or ice cream? When it comes to frozen treats, they’re certainly not all created equal.

There are three major differences between Italian gelato and American ice cream, according to Morgan Morano, the CEO and founder of Morano Gelato Inc., a small New England-based company that produces authentic Italian gelato.

The first big difference is that gelato is much lower in butterfat than American ice cream. While ice cream has a butterfat content of 14 to 25 percent, gelato fat content ranges from 4 to 9 percent.

The second difference is that gelato is denser than American ice cream. While ice cream can have 50 percent or more air churned into it, gelato has 20 to 30 percent.

The third difference is that gelato is served 10 to 15 degrees warmer than American ice cream. “The warmer temperature reinforces the creamy texture of the gelato and the bold flavors, as they more quickly melt in your mouth,” says Morano.

History of gelato

Gelato surfaced during the Renaissance when alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri created the first gelato flavor at the court of the Medici family in Florence, the fior di latte. The Sicilian Francesco Procopio Cutò made gelato available to the public when he opened Café Le Procope in Paris in 1686. Traditional flavors of gelato include: custard, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, hazelnut, pistachio, lemon, raspberry, and peach. More modern flavors have developed, that include: pineapple, tiramisu, banana, mango, yogurt, stracciatella, zabajone, and amarena.

What's-the-Difference-Between-Gelato-and-Ice-CreamTatiana Ayazo/Rd.com

According to Morano, not all gelato is created equal, however. “In this day and age where artisanal ice cream is everywhere, high-quality ingredients don’t always separate gelato from American ice cream by definition. Gelato, for example, is typically made from milk, cream, and a few yolks depending on which flavor is being produced. Sicilian-style gelato is water, cream, some milk, and a few yolks. American ice cream, however, is generally equal parts heavy cream, whole milk, and a lot of egg yolks (this is where the difference in butterfat plays out).”

Though its history spans worldwide and over centuries, ice cream has become an American dessert staple. In fact, nine percent of American cow’s milk production is dedicated to serving up this frozen treat. (This is what your favorite ice cream flavor says about you.)

What's-the-Difference-Between-Gelato-and-Ice-CreamTatiana Ayazo/Rd.com

As for preparation, gelato equipment differs from ice cream. “Gelato is produced in what is typically called a ‘laboratory’ that contains a pasteurizer, batch freezer specific for gelato making, and an immersion blender,” says Morano. Hand-made gelato is produced using a discontinuous batch freezer at -12°, before being put out on display. Ice cream is produced using continuous freezers, typically conveyed through a freezer tunnel at -40°, then held in a cold room for long enough to reach -18°C” to give it a longer shelf life, and to facilitate the other pre-sale phases.

Curious about other frozen treats? “Sorbet is typically dairy free and consists of fruit, sugar, and water,” says Morano. Sherbet is mostly water with a little bit of dairy or butterfat; so, very close to a sorbet but with the addition of a bit of dairy (milk or cream) to help smooth it out and give it a creamier finish that you would have with sorbet.”

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