11 Types of Ice Cream & How They Differ

Is there anything better than ice cream? Whether you like it in a cone, sipped through a straw, or piled high with toppings, this treat delights everyone’s sweet tooth.

Different types of ice cream in a waffle cone and popsicle

But do you usually treat yourself to the traditional dairy treat?

There are so many types of ice cream to explore. Cultures from all over the world enjoy ice cream and frozen desserts.

I remember the first time I tried gelato in Italy or mochi in the Korean district of my city. These desserts satisfied my ice cream craving, but their unique characteristics made them stand out.

What makes ice cream, ice cream? In this article, I’ll explore different types of ice cream and frozen desserts. Those with dietary restrictions will learn about dairy-free and egg-free options too.


One of Italy’s signature desserts, velvety gelato delivers an unforgettable dessert experience.

Italy holds thousands of gelateries, or gelato parlors. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, differs from its American relative in a few notable ways.

Gelato offers a rich, dense texture because it contains less fat and air than ice cream. While both products contain milk, cream, and sugar, gelato omits egg yolks.

Some authentic gelato recipes are safe for those who have egg allergies. 

Gelato flavors burst with intensity. This type of ice cream sits up to ten degrees warmer than ice cream in often elaborate displays. This warmer serving temperature enhances the flavors and silkiness of gelato.

Frozen Yogurt

One of the most in-demand restaurant trends promoted the rise of self-serve frozen yogurt shops.

This product’s recipe is even closer to ice cream than gelato as it features the following ingredients in similar proportions:

  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Sugar

Frozen yogurt includes much more air than gelato, giving it an airier texture. 

Frozen yogurt adds active cultures and the signature tangy flavor of yogurt. Some popular “fro-yo” chains, like Pinkberry or Orange Leaf, achieved fame by offering a tart flavor resembling the taste of plain yogurt.

Frozen yogurt served with toppings, including fruits, nuts, candies, or cookies delights all ice cream lovers.


Sorbet leans closer to shaved ice than ice cream. This product delivers a light and refreshing dessert.

Sorbet recipes typically omit dairy, eggs, and gluten, making this one of the best types of ice cream for those with dietary restrictions.

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Sorbet is often served at the end or throughout a multi-course dinner as a palate cleanser. Sorbet is made with sweetened water and flavorings.

Water, sweetened through honey or other natural or artificial sweeteners, combines with fruit purees or liqueurs before being frozen.

I love a sour sorbet on a hot day by the pool! The dessert is light and refreshing, and it’s super simple to make at home.

Soft Serve

When I think of soft serve, I think of spontaneous visits to a drive-thru or slurping up a cone at the pool.

Soft serve ice cream first debuted in 1926 when the Taylor Company developed its first machine. This company operates today, providing McDonald’s with its iconic soft serve.

Soft serve ice cream contains much more air than other varieties. Airiness allows the product to be light and easily manipulated through a machine, resulting in the classic twisted shape. 

This frozen treat almost always comes in vanilla. There are ways to spice up this ubiquitous summer indulgence.

Experiment with a soft-serve swirl, where ice cream parlors combine two flavors in one soft-serve treat.


Have you ever eaten ice cream in your hand? Mochi represents the most significant departure from traditional ice cream on this list. 

This treat emerges from sweet rice pounded and molded into balls. Mochi is a historic Japanese treat served for ceremonies and holidays, like honoring the New Year.

Mochi ice cream wraps these tender, soft rice pillows around a small mound of ice cream. The result is a satisfying, convenient frozen dessert treat.

Find mochi at your local grocery store or even try making your own mochi.

I’m a big fan of matcha flavored mochi as it has a slightly nutty taste that goes well with the sweet ice cream.


Whichever way you pronounce it, sherbert delivers a refreshing and fruity frozen dessert. Sherbert, also spelled sherbet, consists of milk, cream, and sugar.

This product is very close to ice cream, except for the requirement for fruit puree in the sherbert recipe.

Everyday flavors of sherbert include:

  • Orange
  • Lemon
  • Strawberry
  • Rainbow

Seemingly similar to sorbet, this frozen dessert is not friendly to many dietary restrictions, as it includes milk and eggs.

Sherbet holds much less saturated fat than ice cream, providing a rich frozen dessert option with significantly fewer calories.

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Philadelphia Style

I have been using the phrase “ice cream” frequently here, but now I’m going to define what I truly mean. 

Most ice creams sold in the United States are “French-style” ice creams. French-style contains a custard base, heavy on eggs, milk, and cream. This product is thick and rich.

Philadelphia-style ice cream, also called American-style or New York-style, perfects a recipe with only cream and sugar.

A simple recipe makes this variety much lighter and airer. For ice cream lovers dedicated to subtler flavors like vanilla, Philadelphia-style ice cream helps delicate flavors shine.

This style of ice cream appears in cones or dishes along the East Coast. People with egg allergies can get their frozen dessert fix with Philadelphia-style ice cream.

Rolled Ice Cream

A recent phenomenon, rolled ice cream refers less to the ingredients and more to the presentation of the ice cream.

Combining spectacle and sweets, rolled ice cream production occurs by placing a liquid ice cream base onto an anti-griddle, or a metal plate kept at a frigid 10 degrees below zero.

This liquid is poured directly onto the anti-griddle and smoothed into a thin layer. Strips of each layer roll up using a flat scraper, and each roll of ice cream stands vertically in a dish.

Topped with cookies, candies, or fruits, this decadent dessert is also called Thai-style ice cream.


Americans know ice cream desserts as a thick, quick-melting, silky treat. In Turkey, their version of ice cream more closely resembles chewy taffy. 

You likely won’t be able to make this at home as in addition to classic ingredients, like milk and sugar, this type of ice cream needs salep and Mastic sap. Salep is a powder made of the bulbs of an orchid flower, while Matic sap is a pine resin.

These last two ingredients make a thick and firm product. Some vendors carve off dondurma with a knife to serve it, like the traditional doner kebab shops that line the Turkish streets.

Consider a chocolate or fruit flavor to ease into the unique dondurma experience.

Dondurma is not just a treat in Turkey. Vendors selling dondurma interact with customers, turning every interaction into a lighthearted game.

Keep a good attitude the next time you visit a dondurma vendor because they often give you an extra dollop for being a good sport.

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Like dondurma, kulfi originates in Asia. A sweet treat indigenous to India, kulfi looks and tastes more like frozen custard or gelato instead of traditional ice cream.

Kulfi can be served in a cone or as a popsicle. This dessert often appears alongside noodles as a cultural dessert offering.

Kulfi comes in many different flavors, from traditional offerings like cardamom, saffron, and rose. There are several modern varieties like peanut, strawberry, and avocado.

Kulfi garnished with cardamom, pistachios, or saffron is common.

While kulfi is considered “Indian ice cream,” this treat is enjoyed throughout many cultures. Many countries popularized kulfi, including:

  • Sri Lanka
  • Myanmar
  • Pakistan
  • Nepal
  • Bangladesh
  • Trinidad and Tobago

Snow Cream

Believe it or not, residents in the American South get so excited about the rare experience of a snowstorm they created a recipe to eat this precipitation.

Snow cream recipes are simple. All you need is a few kitchen staples and around eight cups of clean, fresh snow.

If you have some fresh snow, I definitely recommend trying this southern treat. You’ll add the snow to milk and sugar, just like standard ice cream.

Mix and freeze to make a simple frozen treat. Eat your concoction quickly! Just like a Southern snowstorm, snow cream will disappear fast.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian attended West Virginia University, then started his career in the IT industry before following his passion for marketing and hospitality. He has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and bar industry.

As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.

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