The real difference between ice cream and gelato

Ice cream and gelato have a lot of similarities, and are sometimes even sold at the same frozen desserts counter, making it even more difficult to discern the difference. So, what is the real difference between ice cream and gelato?

The earliest ice cream traces back to China, but modern ice cream became popular in the 19th century when technology allowed manufacturers to make and distribute it affordably, and in large quantities (via Healthline). Gelato was unsurprisingly first made in Italy, though there is disagreement over whether it originated in Sicily or Florence.

Both desserts include milk and sugar in their bases. After that, the differences begin. Ice cream uses a large amount of cream and sometimes egg yolks in proportion to the milk. There is actually a legal requirement that ice cream has to have a minimum of 10 percent fat (via Spruce Eats). Meanwhile, the process of making ice cream involves churning the base quickly, which incorporates any air that is in the structure of the liquid before it freezes. As a result, ice cream can contain up to 50 percent air, giving ice cream its airier texture (via Southern Living).

Differences in texture and flavor between ice cream and gelato

Gelato uses a smaller amount of cream and egg yolks in proportion to the milk. The legal requirement for fat in gelato is 5 to 7 percent. There is also more sugar in gelato. This gives the dessert a mix that allows the flavors to be more prominent. The process of making gelato is much slower. It is churned at a much lower speed, making an end product that is much more dense than ice cream, with gelato ranging from 20 to 30 percent air.

Another difference is that gelato melts faster than ice cream. This can be important information if you're ordering outside versus in a cafe. Consider that ice cream is stored at 0 degrees, while gelato is typically stored around 15 degrees.

The way fat affects the tongue creates a distinction in taste between the two frozen desserts. When fat coats the tongue, it becomes more difficult to detect minor differences in flavor. Cold has a similar effect. As ice cream is higher in fat and usually colder than gelato, the flavors in ice cream are less pronounced.

Gelato is good for highlighting delicate flavors and as a means to show complementary flavors in culinary creations, while ice cream is better served to highlight more simple and rich flavors. Either way, yum!