Whats the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream

You can’t go wrong with a frozen dairy treat. With so many different tasty flavors, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to dessert. But even the most experienced ice cream connoisseurs can get confused between all the different names for this frozen treat. Frozen yogurt, ice cream, gelato… There are so many different terms depending on where in the globe that you are.

Gelato ice cream on display at a shop.
Gelato on display at a shop

Gelato vs Ice Cream Explained

Even though the term gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream, there is actually a distinct difference between the two desserts. It’s all in the process of how the frozen treat is made. Traditional French ice cream is even different to original American ice cream, because of the addition of egg yolks. This helps to create a creamy, fluffy dessert which contains a higher fat content.

All of the ice cream ingredients – including egg yolks – are combined together to create a rich custard base. This is then churned at a high speed once it has had time to cool, which then incorporates air into the mixture. Some of the cheaper ice creams you see on the market have been whipped with more air to try and increase their volume. 

ice cream cones
Ice cream cones

You should notice that a quality ice cream is creamy, smooth, and comes with a light texture. Ice cream is always served at a much colder temperature so that it scoops well and stays together.

Gelato is similar in the fact that it uses a custard base, however, there is a higher proportion of milk to cream, and often there are no egg yolks used at all depending on the recipe. The gelato is then churned at a much slower rate than ice cream, leaving it as a denser mixture with less air incorporated. 

You will also find that gelato is served at a warmer temperature than ice cream, and that it will have a softer and silkier texture because of this. Thanks to the fact that it has a lower fat content, you will also notice the intense, distinct flavor of the gelato more than you would with ice cream.

Which is Healthier; Gelato or Ice Cream?

If you’re stuck between choosing gelato or ice cream and want to opt for the healthier option, you will be better off going for gelato. This is because it doesn’t have as high a fat content, has less calories, and generally contains less sugar than ice cream does. 

different flavors of Italian Gelato
different flavors of Italian Gelato

However, it’s worth remembering that gelato is a denser dessert than ice cream, so it will be very easy to pile on the calories if you’re not watching how much you eat. If you want to stick with a healthier portion, it will be crucial to operate portion control.

There is also the option of going for a low fat ice cream if you want to get that creamier flavor. You can also stick with a smaller portion if you want to keep your calorie consumption lower.

Also be aware, the toppings you add will increase the calories of your dessert significantly.

Why is Gelato So Expensive?

If you’ve found some gelato in your local store, you may be wondering why it has a steeper price tag than traditional American ice cream. The answer lies in supply and demand, as there is less of a demand for gelato here in the USA. 

gelato in cafe showcase
gelato in cafe showcase

If it is genuine Italian gelato that has been imported, this cost has likely been factored into the price of the tasty dessert itself. This will incorporate shipping costs to get the gelato over from Italy. This won’t cost as much as it will to get some American ice cream that has been manufactured just down the road.

Does All Ice Cream Have Eggs?

You may think that eggs are a crucial part of creating tasty ice cream. However, it may surprise you to learn that not all ice cream actually contains egg yolks. This was originally a French tradition that was used to enrich the custard base. It has only been adopted into traditional American recipes in recent history. In fact, most gelato recipes don’t even use the addition of eggs at all.

Chefs mixing berries with milk and sugar for ice cream production

The best way to check whether your favorite ice cream or gelato uses eggs as an ingredient is to check the list of ingredients itself.

Does Gelato Have a Lot of Sugar?

While some versions of gelato may actually have less sugar in them than ice cream, it is worth noting that both of these frozen desserts will still use a fair amount of sugar. A single serving of ice cream or gelato will have around 16g to 17g worth of sugar in it. While this may seem like a lot of sugar, it is partly what gives the dessert its signature sweet flavor.

Does Gelato Contain Milk?

Yes, gelato does contain milk. In fact, gelato often has a higher ratio of milk to cream than ice cream does. Because gelato uses a higher percentage of milk than it does cream, this often means it has a much lower fat content than its frozen cousin, ice cream. Typically, gelato will have a fat content of around 4% to 8%, whereas ice cream has a fat content of around 16% to 18%. 

organic ice cream making process

So if you’re conscious of your daily fat intake and want to taste punchier flavors, you may want to opt for a scoop of gelato instead of ice cream. If you want that creamier flavor, ice cream should be your main choice.

In summary

So there you have it! Even though they look like the same thing, there are actually distinct differences between ice cream and gelato which make them very different desserts. Ice cream has a higher ratio of cream, and often contains egg yolks to give it a richer custard base.

Ice cream is then churned at higher speeds to whip in lots of air to the mixture. Ice cream is also served at a colder temperature to ensure everything keeps together.

Gelato on the other hand uses less cream, and has a higher ratio of whole milk. Some recipes will even skip out the addition of egg yolks. Gelato is then churned at a much slower rate, leaving you with a denser dessert that packs a flavorful punch.

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.