What You Need to Know About the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream
There was a time when if you wanted a frozen treat, you went for ice cream. Now, when it comes to frozen desserts, you have a number of options. You have gelato, frozen yogurt, sherbet and even other vegan forms of ice cream that come from coconut milk or other products. NPR has taken a look at the rise in popularity of gelato.
Some say that “gelato” is just the Italian word for “ice cream” but it is much more than that. Between 2009 and 2014, the sales of the Italian frozen treat went up from $11 million to about $214 million, according to Mintel. Mintel Analyst Beth Bloom says there is a reason for the spike in popularity. She says that gelato is made by artisans and in smaller batches than other frozen desserts.
NPR asked, how different, really, is gelato from ice cream? There are some real differences between the two desserts. About half of ice cream is air that was put in during the churning process. On the other hand, gelato only has between 23% and 30% air. That means gelato is a lot denser and tastes silkier. Gelato also has less milk fat. It averages between 3% and 8% while ice cream has between 10% and 16% (or more).
The milk or butterfat is important to the development of ice cream and gelato because it keeps the water ice crystals small. All frozen desserts, at their heart, are a combination of fat and water molecules. The fat breaks up the ice so that the resulting product is creamier.
The recipes for both desserts are very different. While each contains a mixture of milk, sugar, and cream, ice cream has more cream plus often egg yolks are part of the process. There is more milk than cream in gelato, which does not often have the egg yolks.
One reason gelato tastes creamier than ice cream is the lower amount of air. As was noted, ice cream can have 50% of it. This makes it more light and fluffy.
Gelato is light on its own because it has less butterfat. That is also why there is only between 23% and 30% air, its lightness does not really come from the churning process. It retains its creaminess and density. When people make gelato, they get a special gelato maker which has a slower churn rate than an ice cream maker.
The lower fat content is also responsible for the stronger flavors of gelato. Many people do not realize that fat can coat the tongue, making flavors less intense. Without the fat, the taste of gelato is like a burst of flavor hitting the palate.
Another reason gelato has a different flavor and texture than other frozen desserts is the temperature at which it is generally served. Ice cream is served at roughly 10 to 15 degrees colder than gelato. When you get your gelato it is often served between seven and 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Another thing that prevents your tongue from getting the full flavor is the numbing from the cold.
Not only have gelato shops been showing up more and more around the country but major ice cream manufacturers such as Haagen-Daz and Breyers and jumped into the gelato fray. The problem is ascertaining whether a consumer is getting real gelato or just ice cream dressed up.
Morgan Morano, who wrote “The Art of Making Gelato,” has some advice so people can be assured they are getting the real deal. Ice cream, she says, is served with a scoop. This is never the case with real gelato. You should be served that with a spade. A spade is a flat tool that is a lot like a spatula. She says this allows the server to warm it up further, which helps the flavor.
One last piece of advice Morano has for the would-be gelato connoisseur is to eat it soon after buying it. Whether you make it at home or buy it to take home, gelato is not meant to be saved. She says that eating it fresh is the main way to get the best flavor.
Whichever you like better, both desserts are great on a hot day.