HOW IT'S MADE
Italian or Italian-style ice cream.
Gelato (Frozen) is the Italian word for ice cream. It 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. Italian gelato contains less fat than ice cream, has less incorporated air, and is served at a higher temperature. Consequently, gelato provides a greater flavor experience because there is less fat that coats the tongue, more flavor per spoonful (due to less air), and the taste buds are more alive since the temperature is not so cold as to dull their sensitivity. The lower fat content also means fewer calories to burn!
Ice Cream vs. Gelato: What's the Difference?
Both gelato and ice cream contain cream, milk, and sugar. Gelato uses a lower proportion of cream, which means less butterfat (fat from cream and milk) in the mixture. The FDA requires ice cream to contain at least 10% butterfat by weight, climbing to as high as 25%. By using less cream, gelato reaches only 4% to 9% butterfat.
The Churning Method
Churning is required to make both frozen desserts. Ice cream is churned at high speeds, infusing large amounts of whipped air into the product. Additionally, the high butterfat content of ice cream allows it to absorb more air. By the end of the process, ice cream is up to 50% air and has doubled in volume. This increase in volume is called “overrun.” Gelato is churned more slowly and has less butterfat, so less air is absorbed—the overrun reaches about 25% to 30% during churning.
The Serving Style
At their respective shops, ice cream and gelato are served in slightly different ways. Ice cream is stored at a brisk 0 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature where it’s scoopable but still holds a nice spherical shape atop a cone. Gelato is served warmer—10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit—so it remains soft and creamy. Ice cream is served with the classic scoop we know and love, while traditional gelato is best served with a spade.
The Taste and Texture
All those tweaks in ingredients and method lead to major differences in the taste and texture of what ends up on your spoon. When you eat ice cream, all that cold butterfat actually coats your tongue and slightly dulls your ability to sense flavor. Gelato’s lower butterfat percentage means you can taste the flavors more readily—thus the increased richness associated with gelato. The differences in whipped air also affect texture: gelato has a dense consistency, whereas ice cream’s texture feels light and fluffy.