What's the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

Word of Mouth

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We're entering high season for frozen treats! Truthfully, we'll eat most of these no matter what name they go by, but is there really a difference between ice cream and gelato? Or is gelato just a fancier name for regular ol' ice cream?

Ice Cream: Fat and Fluffy

Ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert made of milk, cream, sugar, and (typically) egg yolks. Traditionally, French-style ice cream contained egg yolks and was richer than American-style ice cream, which didn't initially contain eggs. However, American ice cream has now evolved to also include the yolks.

The ingredients in ice cream are first cooked together into a rich custard. After the custard base is cooled, it's churned at a fairly high speed to incorporate air and increase its volume (cheaper ice creams tends to have more air whipped into them).

Ice cream is served at a fairly cold temperature that makes scoops hold together, and the finished product is smooth, light-textured, and creamy.

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Gelato: Dense and Intense

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. It starts out with a similar custard base as ice cream, but has a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all). 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. Because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, the main flavor ingredient really shines through.

Although I love both of them, my mood sometimes dictates what I prefer. If it's a really hot day, I would rather have ice cream since it won't melt as quickly and I don't have to quickly eat it. If I just want a little bit of dessert, though, I choose gelato since it has a more intense, satisfying flavor that I can savor.

Do you prefer ice cream or gelato?

Updated from a post originally published in June 2010.

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