Gelato vs. Ice Cream

Gelato and ice cream are both delicious frozen treats. They both come in a variety of flavors and are satisfying on a hot summer day. A common misconception is that they are the same thing since gelato means ice cream in Italian, but they actually are not the same. They have a few key differences from how they are made, to ingredients, to serving temperature.

Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato

Ice cream and gelato are both made with cream, milk, and sugar, but one key difference is that gelato uses less cream and more milk, resulting in a creamier silky feel on the tongue. In addition, ice cream traditionally uses egg yolks, and gelato doesn’t usually include egg yolks.

While ice cream and gelato both use butterfat to get that tasty sweetness, ice cream uses between 15% and 25% butterfat making it heavier on the waistline. Gelato only uses around 4% to 9% butterfat. The difference in butterfat is felt on the tongue. Ice cream, due to its heavy butterfat, coats the tongue and palate. In contrast, gelato has a smoother finish and allows the other ingredients’ true flavors to shine. Gelato has less fat, so the flavor has a cleaner finish.

Another contrast between gelato and ice cream is that ice cream is churned, which adds air to the finished product. Churning makes ice cream lighter with a more airy flavor. Gelato is also churned, but it isn’t churned as fast or as much, which leads to a denser, more concentrated flavor.

Temperature also adds to the difference between ice cream and gelato. Ice cream is generally served by the scoop and served at around 7-12  degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty cold. On the other hand, gelato is served using a spade that resembles a spatula and is served at about 10 -15 degrees warmer than ice cream. Gelato is served warmer, making it easier to savor the deep flavors because the mouth and tastebuds aren’t numb from the intense cold like ice cream.

How to Make at Home

Luckily both ice cream and gelato are easily made at home. Making ice cream and gelato at home is simple with an ice cream machine. Although gelato doesn’t need an ice cream machine, many agree it is better to use one if available. There are many brands and styles of ice cream machines to choose from. The three styles of ice cream machines are defined by a hand crank, frozen bowl, and compressor. 

Traditional hand crank ice cream makers require rock salt, ice, and some elbow grease. This style is a bit messy but is a fun activity that creates a delicious ice cream. It can also make gelato with a slower crank to keep the air bubbles to a minimum.

Frozen bowl ice cream machines have a canister that needs to be frozen 24 hours to make ice cream or gelato. They are generally smaller and only make a small batch at a time. Due to the 24-hour advance freeze and the small amount, it is not ideal for people who regularly make ice cream and gelato.

Compressor ice cream machines are the best value. They are easy to use and make several batches of ice cream in no time. These machines are also better for making gelato. Just remember to use the slowest speed setting.

Making ice cream starts with dairy, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and other flavor ingredients such as fruit or chocolate. Mix the ingredients in the canister and if using a hand crank or compressor, start churning. The process can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the ingredients and machine type. When it’s close to being finished, the motor will slow, and it will be more difficult to churn. When finished, scoop the ice cream into a container and store it in the fridge.

Gelato is also easy to make at home with or without an ice cream machine, but the process is different. There is a debate among experts as to whether using an ice cream machine makes a better gelato or not. If using an ice cream machine, it is important to remember to have it on the slowest possible setting. And if an ice cream machine is not available, it is still possible to make delicious gelato. 

To make homemade gelato, slowly make a custard with milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Then add the flavor, which is traditionally chocolate, nuts, or fruit. Then, churn slowly. Churning can be done by hand or use an ice cream machine. If using an ice cream machine, check that it is at the slowest speed to keep it dense and not allow too much air into the gelato. When finished, it will be thick, creamy, and dense. The flavor comes out vivid and intense, a real treat for tastebuds.

Which is Healthier?

Both gelato and ice cream have high sugar content, which makes them a treat to enjoy sparingly. But gelato makes the grade for a healthier treat due to less butterfat and no egg yolks. Healthier versions of gelato and ice cream are available, including dairy-free options for the lactose intolerant and vegans. 

Where to Buy?

Ice cream is sold in grocery stores, supermarkets, and specialty shops. Gelato is often a bit harder to find in stores and usually sold in specialty shops or Italian eateries.

The most popular brands of ice cream include Ben & Jerry’s, Bluebell, Haagen Dazs, and Breyers. The most popular store bought gelato includes Talenti Gelato, Gelato Fiasco, Dolcezza Gelato, and YoLyfe Gelato.

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