What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?
When temperatures go up, getting something cool to drink or eat is just the perfect thing to do. While ice cream is the most-loved cold snack in the US, on the other side of the Atlantic, gelato is king.
For most people, it is easy to think that the 2 are exactly the same thing. Considering that the word “gelato” is Italian for ice cream, it is logical to make this mistake. It may also be because some places call their products gelato to make it sound more special. But the fact is, despite looking like the same thing, the similarities end here. To understand the differences between the two, it is important to trace their beginnings.
Which One Came First? Gelato Or Ice Cream?
This one is easy because gelato has been traced all the way back to the 16th Century in Florence, Italy. This means for hundreds of years, millions have been enjoying this cold treat, from Europe and later on, in the United States. Italian immigrants have brought it over to introduce their most well-known dessert in Europe.
Gelato is still without a doubt one of the favorite desserts in Europe, with Italy having produced about 157 million gallons of it in 2016. This is equivalent to 6.8 billion scoops!
While the modern version is almost half a century old, it is certainly not the oldest dessert in existence. There is, in fact, evidence that a creamy cold dessert similar to today’s gelato or ice cream was invented in China.
There are historians who trace the first version of an iced treat in China from 4,000 years ago. It is not similar to today’s dessert but it was definitely the first step in creating a sweet dish that is not a part of the main one. Interestingly, the first version was made of overcooked rice, milk, and some spices. This combination was then frozen in snow, which makes it closer to the modern idea of a frozen dessert.
Eventually, it evolved into different versions until they started to experiment with fruit juices iced to be served cold. This was sold on the streets of Beijing in carts. Some people then believe that Marco Polo eventually brought gelato all the way to Italy in the 11th century, but sherbet (also called sorbet) is believed to be the ones to first make it to Sicily.
In the United States, iced desserts like gelato were only brought over in 1744, according to the International Dairy Food Association. However, until the late 19th century, it was only a dessert for the rich. Once it spread to everyone, it became a clear hit and ice cream is now a $40 billion industry.
Gelato Vs. Ice Cream: An Overview
With both being sweet and cold, plus the similar appearance, it is understandable why many people think ice cream and gelato are the same thing. Of course, the people who make these desserts know better. The secret lies first and foremost in the ingredients. They are made of similar things, like milk, eggs, and cream but the amount of each ingredient differs.
When it comes to deciding which is better, it all boils down to preference and culture. Because gelato is very common in Europe, the people there might prefer the smoother texture compared to ice cream. On the other side of the Atlantic, ice cream is what most people are used to although more and more specialty stores are offering gelato. One of the biggest selling points of ice cream is the fact that it can be stored longer compared to gelato. If you have the best ice cream maker at home, it is also easy to make on your own.
Breaking Down The Differences
To understand what makes them unique and to help consumers decide which suits their taste buds more, it is helpful to discuss their characteristics in detail.
- The Ingredients Are Similar But The Proportions Vary
Both gelato and ice cream have the basic ingredients of milk and cream. Eggs are also added to make ice cream, but this is rarely added to gelato (unless for the flavor). Moreover, ice cream has added sugar. On the other hand, gelato has more milk and less cream as opposed to ice cream.
- They Are Also Prepared Differently
If you have ever tried both, then you will realize that the texture varies a lot. This all boils down to how each is made. While they are both cool treats, they are actually prepared and served with different temperatures.
The ingredients of ice cream are mixed to create a custard which is cooled down. Once cool, it is churned at a very high speed to trap air and make it fluffier. Ice cream needs to be served at low temperature so that the scoops will hold up and not fall apart. The end result is a creamy and smooth texture that everyone knows and loves.
On the other hand, gelato does not require the high speeds to churn it and thus, less air gets trapped. The texture differs because of this, making gelato denser compared to ice cream. Lastly, it is served at a slightly higher temperature, so that it is much softer and smoother. Gelato is served fresh while ice cream can be stored in the freezer longer. This is because the ingredients are fresh and should be consumed within a day. When it is not eaten in this time frame, it will lose its flavor.
- Watching Your Calorie Intake? Then Watch The Fat Content
After identifying ice cream and gelato ingredients, it is easy to count the calories of both. Having a sweet treat can still be diet-friendly, especially if you opt for gelato. Compared to ice cream, gelato seems healthier because of the few calories. On the other hand, ice cream is made with more milk fat (or butterfat) and a higher ratio of cream. But it is definitely this higher fat content that makes ice cream thicker, firmer in consistency, and more luscious.
- Creamier Vs. Richer?
Both of these cool treats have their winning points, so it all boils down to preference. Good ice cream is known to be so light and fluffy because the higher fat content makes it less dense. The fat binds with the water in the milk and allows more air to be trapped. Basically, it is like whipping cream, which is why ice cream ingredients need to be churned with higher speeds. So, fans of a creamier treat will find ice cream much more enjoyable.
Gelato is made with more milk and if you have ever tried to whip whole milk, then you would know that it doesn’t fluff up like cream. This is why gelato is denser and feels richer when you are eating it. This is quite deceptive though because gelato still has less fat.
- Serve At Different Temperatures
Ice cream can be served frozen and scooping it will still be easy. On the other hand, gelato has to be stored and served at a higher temperature or else it will be like a hard block.
- Gelato Is Best Fresh
If you fancy having a tub of something cool at home for midnight desserts, then ice cream is the choice for you. This is because gelato should be consumed within a day of preparing it. It simply will not have the same flavor after a longer amount of time and this is because of the lack of fat. This means, if you are out and about and want a delicious treat, then heading over to a real gelato place will be a treat.
If you also like fruit flavors, gelato tastes better. The flavors of the fruit/s do not compete with the fat and the consistency of gelato allows for more flavor for every spoonful. On the other hand, ice cream is the natural choice for flavors that are to be enjoyed for a long period of time, like aromatic and rich flavors. In these cases, the higher fat content allows the flavor to remain strong.
- Even The Utensils Are Different
Now that the important question, “what is gelato and ice cream?” has been answered, the last step in differentiating the two is looking at how they are served. In the United States, the ice cream scoop is the utensil used all the time. In fact, it is natural to find it at every home. However, if you are truly a gelato fan, then you know that a spade is better for serving this richer dessert because it makes it softer before it gets served.
For a very long time, gelato was a cold treat reserved for the elite although this has changed greatly in the last century. Nowadays, it is easy to find both ice cream and gelato. While personal preferences may influence what one will find more delicious, they are both great choices. Understanding the differences will help you decide, however, where and when to enjoy each. For home consumption, ice cream is the clear winner but if you want something freshly made, you will love gelato.
- What’s The Difference Between Ice Cream And Gelato? – AllRecipes
- What’s The Difference Between Ice Cream And Gelato? – Food and Wine
- Never Be Confused About the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream Again – Eat This, Not That!