What’s the Real Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

updated Jun 7, 2024
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Strawberry ice cream side by side with pistachio gelato with "vs" in the middle
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

When it comes to frozen treats, I’m not super picky. When browsing the freezer aisle I’m just as likely to grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s as I am Talenti. However, upon closer inspection you might notice that one of those treats is labeled as “ice cream” while the other is “gelato.” They look very similar. They’re both creamy, sweet, and scoopable, so what’s the difference?

Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Kitchn
The difference between gelato and ice cream
Quick Overview

The Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato

Ice cream is made with heavy cream and has a higher fat content than gelato. It’s also made with eggs and has a fluffy texture as a result of the fast churning speed.

Gelato is made with milk, typically does not include eggs, and has a dense texture from a slower churning speed than ice cream.

Credit: Kayla Hoang

Ice Cream: Fluffy and Full of Fat

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 helps scoops hold together, and the finished product is smooth, light-textured, and creamy.

Ice Cream Recipes

Credit: Digihelion/Shutterstock

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.

Gelato Recipes