What's the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

John Kernick
It's a clash of frozen dessert titans.

Ice cream, in its many forms, is the most beloved food on Earth. There's only one other dairy desert that can hold its ground against good ol’ American ice cream: gelato. In recent years, gelato’s popularity has skyrocketed in the United States, which has a lot of people wondering what sets it apart from ice cream itself. Here are the differences between ice cream and gelato.

They are made with different ingredients.

According to Morgan Morano, author of The Art of Making Gelato, the differences between ice cream and gelato begin with their ingredients and their proportions. The base for both is a mix of cream, milk and sugar. Ice cream, however, contains way more actual cream than gelato and it contains egg yolks, which are rarely if ever used in traditional gelato (except for flavor on occasion).

They contain different amounts of fat.

According to the FDA, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent fat, but most ice creams fall between 14 and 25 percent. Gelato is leaner—it traditionally contains only four to nine percent fat. Ice cream’s extra fat comes from extra cream, which is, of course, high in delicious butterfat.

They have different textures.

The process of making both ice cream and gelato is called churning. However, the two desserts are churned at different speeds and intensities, which affects the resulting textures. Ice cream is churned much harder and faster than gelato, which leads to much more air being incorporated. The result of this is a fluffier texture, whereas gelato is denser, smoother and often more flavorful.

The two are served at different temperatures.

Due to it’s increased density, gelato is served at about seven to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, which is anywhere from 10 to 15 degrees warmer than ice cream is traditionally served. If you tried to serve gelato at the temperature that ice cream is, it would be far too cold to taste or really even enjoy. And honestly, no one likes their ice cream or gelato freezer-burnt anyway.

The two are served using different utensils.

While this has nothing to do with ice cream and gelato themselves, the tools used to serve the two are also different. In the U.S., an ice cream scoop is always used when serving up a cup or cone. However, gelato requires a spade instead, which helps shape and soften the gelato before it’s served.

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