Ice cream and gelato are two very popular cold treats served all over the world. They can be found at restaurants, shops, festivals, and grocery stores in nearly every city. Both are served as a snack or dessert and are often confused as the same dish due to their obvious similarities. They both are frozen or nearly frozen dishes made from dairy and come in countless flavors. While at first glance it may seem that ice cream and gelato are one and the same, they are actually vastly different desserts. They differ not only in name and origin, but they are made with varying ingredients, use different processes to produce, and are served in very different ways that give each sweet dessert a unique texture and taste.
The origin of ice cream is a debated topic. Some believe the first form of ice cream was invented in Persia around 500 BC where they combined snow and various flavorings. Others credit the creation of ice cream to China around 200 BC where they would freeze a mixture of milk and rice using snow. The term didn’t show up until the 18th century in Europe. In the 19th century in North America, ice cream truly gained popularity, as refrigeration made advancements and soon produced the frozen treat we know today.
On the other hand, gelato’s origin started in Italy in the 17th century by a Sicilian chef, Francesco Procopio Cutò, who helped spread gelato around the world by introducing the beloved dessert in his restaurant in Paris. The Italian treat was so popular in France, that King Louis XIV granted Procopio French citizenship and gave him an exclusive license to make him the sole producer of gelato.
How They’re Made
Ice cream and gelato do have a similar process and ingredients to make them, but their subtle variances yield vastly different results. Making ice cream from scratch can be done with an ice cream maker by mixing milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks together at a high temperature of pasteurization, and then churned at a cooler temperature where the flavoring, often fruit or syrup, is mixed in as well. Ice cream is churned at a high rate of speed, which incorporates lots of air into the final product, giving ice cream its lighter texture.
Gelato goes through a similar process, but with a few key differences. First, gelato generally does not use eggs in the recipe. Second, gelato uses a much higher milk-to-cream ratio than ice cream, which gives the dessert a lower fat content than ice cream. These ingredients are then mixed together in a gelato maker for pasteurization just as ice cream, but is then churned at a much slower rate, resulting in much less air in the final product. This helps make gelato much denser.
If the ingredients and processes in which these dishes are made aren’t different enough, the way they are served also adds to their uniqueness. Ice cream is commonly served very cold, usually at freezing temperatures. When served, ice cream is traditionally scooped and served in balls. Combined with the freezing temperatures, this helps maintain the ice cream’s firm and icy texture. Due to ice cream’s higher fat content from the higher ratio of cream to milk, the flavor of the ice cream is often masked to an extent and overpowered, giving ice cream a milder taste.
Meanwhile, gelato is often served several degrees warmer than ice cream. Rather than scoops, gelato is served using a flat spade, which helps soften the gelato during serving. By doing so, this gives the gelato a distinct silkiness in its texture, which is aided by the minimum amount of air that was introduced during the churning process. Gelato’s milk-to-cream ratio means it has a much lower fat content than ice cream, which allows for the flavors in the gelato to be more prominent, giving gelato its reputation for having a much stronger flavoring than ice cream.