Explaining the Difference Between Gelato & Ice Cream

Words: Robyn Paterson

Gelato, one of (many) Italian food exports, has become beloved all around the world — no surprises there, people love a frozen dessert! But what is the difference between gelato & ice cream? Many gelatarias outside of Italy claim to have the ‘best, most authentic product’, but if you don’t know what that is, how can you tell?

I recently had my first taste of gelato and loved it, which came as a surprise, because I don’t usually enjoy dairy-based ice cream (there’s something about the fatty layer it leaves in your mouth that I really don’t enjoy!). So, I decided to do a little research and find out why it doesn’t have that fatty element if it’s still dairy-based. Turns out there are some fundamental differences in the production and storage of this Italian frozen dessert that impact both the taste and the mouthfeel of the final product.

Difference Between Gelato & Ice Cream

moro gelatoI’m going to get into the three main differences and then possibly go for another scoop at (or two) at my favourite spot in Cape Town.

The Difference in Dairy & Fat

Both ice cream and gelato are dairy-based, but ice cream contains more cream than milk, whereas gelato contains more milk than cream (that’s why there is no fatty layer). For ice cream to be considered the real deal, it has to contain at least 10% fat content, but gelato only needs to contain 5-7%. Ice cream also contains eggs, while gelato is eggless, which also affects the fat content and mouthfeel of the final product.

The Difference in Churn

Both frozen desserts need to be churned to make sure they are creamy, luscious and most importantly – scoopable. The churning process helps to incorporate air into the dessert, which results in a dense or lighter result. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, which means there is less air whipped into the dessert (around 25-30%); ice cream is churned at a faster speed and can contain up to 50% air.

The Difference in Storage

Furthermore, both desserts have to be stored correctly to ensure they are served at the right consistency. They are both classified as frozen desserts, but ice cream is served at a colder temperature (-17℃), while gelato is served slightly warmer at -9℃. This means gelato is not entirely frozen when served, making it smooth, creamy and silky.

Looking for a new ice cream spot? Have a look at our favourites in Cape Town.

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