The Real Difference Between Neapolitan And Spumoni

Neapolitan is an ice cream flavor that most people are familiar with, but spumoni is less well known. It may actually be kind of easy to get the two mixed up – after all, both are frozen treats with Italian names, and both come in stripes of 3 different colors. While Neapolitan ice cream is always brown, pink, and white, spumoni tends to be either brown, pink, and green or possibly white, pink, and green (via Bon Appetit). (This latter configuration somewhat resembles the Italian flag.)

Of these two desserts, actually it's the more obscure spumoni that's the real deal as far as being authentically Italian. Neapolitan's kind of a Giovanni-come-lately knockoff meant to appeal to the American palate, which obviously it does since it ranks 10th on the International Dairy Foods Association list of best-selling flavors. Spumoni, on the other hand, ranks down among the great uncounted hordes of flavors like lychee matcha crunch and horchata hibiscus swirl.

How spumoni spawned Neapolitan

Ironically, spumoni is the dessert that originates in the Italian province of Naples and thus may be the truly Neapolitan product (although the Chicago Tribune puts forth an alternate story which has spumoni originating in a different southern Italian province, Bari). When Neapolitan (or maybe Barian) immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th century, PopSugar relates that they brought a number of dessert recipes with them, including one for tricolor ice cream.

While the sweet treat was popular in its original form, featuring flavors such as pistachio, cherry, and chocolate, sometimes with additional nuts, fruits, and even rum, ice cream sellers soon came up with a more "American" version featuring the newer nation's top flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. A little odd that the new flavor combo was named after the birthplace of the old one, but maybe they figured "Brooklyn" or "Chicago" ice cream wouldn't sell nearly so well.

What differentiates the two desserts

Besides the variance in flavors, one notable difference between the two desserts is that traditional spumoni isn't really ice cream at all. Instead, it's actually a semifreddo, or, according to A Taste of Brooklyn, milk sherbet. Cook's Info further complicates the matter by relating that in Italy, spumoni might be a mousse containing candy, almonds, and chocolate bits that are covered by a layer of ice cream. Chowhound also discusses a regional specialty known mostly in the New England area: spumoni with claret sauce. One long-defunct menu from a Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant known as Edelweiss featured spumoni with claret sauce (priced just 35 cents!) in 1961 (via the New York Public Library archives), and the item's still available today from Giardino's Family Restaurant in West Yarmouth, Mass. No price is listed on their online menu, but the retro dessert's bound to run you a bit more than it did 60 or so years ago.

As for Neapolitan, what more explanation does this oh-so-familiar dessert need? It played a large role in every elementary school birthday party you attended, and you've likely also experienced the chagrin that comes with finding a carton in your family freezer and opening it up to see that all the chocolate is gone. Neapolitan may have branched out into ice cream sandwiches and Klondike bars, but its natural habitat is still the gallon-sized plastic tub. It's as basic as it gets, but there's nothing wrong with that.