What’s the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

June 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm

The question we get asked most as a gelato retailer is “what makes gelato different from ice cream?” We know they taste different, and yet sometimes the same, so what makes one gelato and the other ice cream? The answer lies in three factors: air, fat and serving temperature.


Ice creams are churned faster and harder than gelato and typically increase in volume (with air, through churning) by at least 25 and up to 90 percent, which causes their fluffy composure. Gelato is churned at a much slower pace, keeping it dense. Just like a light, fluffy angel food cake is easier to cut into than a dense fruit cake, a more aerated ice cream is easier to scoop, and has a fluffier, less dense texture.



American ice creams are heavy on the cream, and have a fat content, by American labeling law, of at least 10%. Gelato, uses more milk than cream, so it doesn’t have nearly as much fat. Additionally, it usually—but not always—uses fewer (to the point of none) egg yolks, another source of fat in custard-based ice creams.

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The temperature ice cream is stored at also has an obvious effect: colder ice creams are harder and more solid, while warmer ones are softer, with a looser texture. So if gelato has less fat than ice cream, and less air pumped into it, why is it not as hard as a brick? It’s the last big factor: temperature. Ice cream is best served at around 10°F; gelato cases are set to a warmer temperature.

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But when it comes down to it, it’s all ice cream, just how soft serve is just warmer, freshly churned ice cream, and frozen yogurt is just soft serve made with yogurt as the dairy base. Sure, we can quibble over names and definitions, but at the end of the day, it’s all one happy frozen, creamy family. We’re happy to just enjoy them all indiscriminately.