What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

(Last Updated On: July 26, 2019)
What's the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

Most people know that there is a difference between ice cream and gelato, but far fewer people actually know what that difference is. In this post, we’ll break down these two popular desserts, and talk about some of the similarities, and differences, between them.

What Is Ice Cream?

Ice cream is a frozen dessert that is made out of milk, cream, sugar, and sometimes eggs. Other ingredients, like plant gums, stabilizers, and flavorings, are often added to commercial ice cream for taste and texture.

Ice cream can be served in a variety of ways, like in a cone or cup, or as a topping or ingredient in another dessert. Among the most popular flavors of ice cream are vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

It’s believed that ice cream might have originated in China as early as 200 B.C. Though it wouldn’t become popular in Europe and American until the 17th century, when it began to resemble our more modern idea of what ice cream is.

We all love ice cream. Do you think you can you spot the real Ben and Jerry’s flavors from the fakes?

What Is Gelato?

Gelato is another form of frozen dessert. Traditionally, it was made with an egg custard base, but now it’s common to find gelato made with ingredients like milk, cream, eggs, sugar and other flavors. 

Much like ice cream, gelato comes in a variety of different flavors. There are traditional flavors, like cream (custard), stracciatella (vanilla sprinkled with chocolate pieces on top), hazelnut, and pistachio. And then more modern ones, like strawberry, lemon, and apple. Gelato can also be served in a cone, with a cup and spoon, or on top of other desserts.

Modern gelato has its origins in the late 1600s, and is typically credited to Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli. He introduced an improved sorbet recipe at his Café Procope in Paris that quickly became popular throughout Europe. In fact, his gelato was so prized that the Sun King Louis XIV even made Procopio the sole producer of the treat in all of France.

What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

Now that you know a little about the history of ice cream and gelato, what ingredients they’re made out of, and how they’re served, you’re probably wondering what in the world are the differences between these desserts? They seem pretty similar, don’t they?

Percentage of Butterfat  

Both ice cream and gelato can be made using similar ingredients, but one key difference between the two is the percentage of butterfat each contains. Butterfat is the fatty part of your milk, and also the main component of…you guessed it…butter.

Most American ice cream contains at minimum 10% butterfat, though this total is often even higher. Gelato, on the other hand, uses closer to 3% butterfat. This explains why some people tend to think of gelato as being the lighter of the two treats–like a lower fat version of ice cream.

Churning Speed and Air

Ultimately though, the biggest difference between ice cream and gelato is air. Ice cream is churned at a faster rate than gelato, pumping more air into the dessert than in gelato. This helps give ice cream its soft and fluffy texture. This is also why ice cream is more susceptible to forming ice crystals and tastes generally colder/icier in your mouth.

This is a stark contrast to making gelato, in which the equipment used is designed to add as little air as possible to the mix as it is being frozen. In fact, gelato can have as much as 50% less air than ice cream. This is what gives gelato its denser, smoother, creamier feel.


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