Types of Ice Cream & Ice Cream Alternatives

Different Types of Ice Cream Ice cream is, of course, a beloved summer staple, whether it’s homemade, savored during an outing to a popular seasonal gathering spot, or readily available from your home freezer. However, if you choose not to indulge in the creamy dairy treat due to lactose intolerance, fat content, dietary restrictions, allergies and health concerns or another reason, there plenty of options.

Alternatives include sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, fruit-free, vegan, organic, low fat, and more. Here’s an overview of what’s available:

Ice Milk

As you might suppose, ice milk has a lower fat content than ice cream, a lighter texture, and many people find it more refreshing. Much “soft ice cream,” including that sold by Dairy Queen, is technically ice milk, with only a five percent butter fat content. Ice milk is often labeled as low-fat, but the sugar content and calorie count may be the same as standard ice cream.


Both gelato and ice cream contain cream, milk and sugar, but gelato never has egg yolks and uses more milk and less cream. While ice cream is, by definition, at least 10 percent butter fat, gelato’s fat content is typically between four and nine percent. It is denser and more fluid than ice cream, contains less air, and is typically served 10 to 15 degrees warmer than ice cream, even though still frozen. Gelato-lovers say the taste is more distinct.

Sherbet and Sorbet

The difference between sherbet and sorbet is the amount of dairy these products contain. True sorbet is simply sweetened fruit puree, or flavored juice with the addition of a sweetener such as honey. It is the original gluten-free, dairy-free dessert, or palate cleanser. Sherbet, on the other hand, is also made from fruit or fruit juice, with the addition of a bit of milk or cream to give it a richer texture.

Frozen Yogurt

Just what it’s name implies, the product is made from yogurt, rather than fresh milk or cream, and may contain active bacteria cultures. Frozen yogurt, which can have a somewhat tangy or stronger taste, but is lower in saturated fat and calories than regular ice cream. It’s comparable to ice milk or reduced-fat brands.


A fermented milk drink that is typically made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk, kefir has a taste similar to thin yogurt. Touted for its health benefits, it can also be made from soy, coconut or rice milk, and can be the basis for a frozen treat.

Popsicles, Slushies or Shaved Ice

Essentially just flavored ices, frozen fruit juice or flavored, sweetened liquids, these are kid favorites for cooling summer treats. They’re increasingly popular with adults as well, with flavors like green tea, watermelon and kiwi. They may also be flavored with liqueur.

Alternative “Ice Creams”

Hot summers bring out a cook’s inventiveness. There are many popular substitutes for traditional ice cream: Frozen grapes, berries and bananas are popular, sometimes dipped in chocolate, and lactose substitutes for “ice cream” include avocado, nut milk, rice and soy milks and even some beans and legumes.

No matter what the restrictions that you place on yourself and your food choices, there are ways to enjoy the pleasing taste, texture and icy goodness of old-fashioned ice cream with not even a smidgen of guilt! Cool treats are, historically, tonics for body and spirit during hot, humid summer months.