Now that the warmer weather is finally here, most of us are eagerly looking forward to the long, hot days of summer. Think lazy afternoons spent in the garden with a cool drink and a scoop or two of your favourite frozen dessert.
A few years back the iced treat of choice was almost always ice cream, but these days more and more people are choosing to cool down with a bowl of gelato. But what is gelato? Is it just the Italian word for ice cream, or are these two different desserts?
Gelato vs Ice Cream
In fact, gelato and ice cream are pretty similar - both are made from sugar combined with either milk, cream, or a combination of the two, and churned to add air to the mixture before freezing. But there are also crucial differences in how these two desserts are made, giving each a unique character and flavour that sets it apart from the other.
To begin with, ice cream is churned more quickly than gelato, folding much more air into the mixture. This means that ice cream has a lighter, fluffier texture. If you churn it right, you should notice it increasing in volume as you make it. Because gelato is churned more slowly, it contains a lower volume of air - typically around 25 to 30 percent volume to ice cream’s 50 percent - giving it a denser, silkier texture.
Another key difference is in fat content. While ice cream contains more cream, and often also includes egg yolks, gelato is made with more milk than cream and rarely includes egg yolks. This gives ice cream a creamier, more buttery mouthfeel, but the extra butterfat content also tends to coat your tongue, making it harder for your tastebuds to detect flavour. Gelato’s lower fat content leaves your palate clear, creating a more intense taste sensation. It would be a mistake to assume that gelato is a ‘healthy version’ of ice cream however, as both of these desserts are high in sugar and calories, meaning they should be enjoyed as an occasional treat only.
Because of their differences, gelato should be treated slightly differently to regular ice cream. Ice cream is served as cold as possible to avoid melting and to maintain its light fluffy texture, and is typically rolled into tight balls using an ice cream scoop. But the perfect gelato should actually be left for a few minutes and served at around 10–15°F (6–8°C). This prevents your tongue from becoming numb with cold, so you can better appreciate those intense gelato flavours.
There also tends to be a difference in the variety of flavours available for each of these desserts. Ice cream is available in pretty much any flavour you care to think of, from classics like vanilla and chocolate to unusual and even savoury flavours like blue cheese or wasabi peas. Gelato tends to stick to a few Italian classics like pistachio, hazelnut, stracciatella, or tiramisu, as well as obligatory international favourites like chocolate and vanilla. But those flavours gelato does, it does well, with more natural ingredients and fewer artificial flavours than most typical ice cream brands.
Gelato is often described as a grown-up version of ice cream. With its denser texture, a bowl of gelato can look less generous than a bowl of ice cream, and it lacks the dazzling array of flavours and the instant hit of ice-cold creaminess. But for those willing to look past first impressions, the intense, clean flavours and quality ingredients of gelato can ultimately make for a more satisfying eating experience.
Gelato vs Sorbet
Unlike gelato and ice cream, sorbet is completely dairy free, which is great news for vegans. It is made using sugar and fruit purée, juice or alcohol, and has a light, refreshing texture. With no dairy fat acting as a barrier on the tongue, sorbet has an intense fruity flavour, and is often used as a palate cleanser between courses at formal dinners. It too should be served a little warmer than ice cream to fully appreciate the flavours, and to keep it soft enough to eat.
If you want to try some gelato for yourself, the world’s very best gelato can be found at Gelateria Crispini, in the town of Spoleto, Italy, according to the the judges of the World Gelato Tour, a three year search for the finest frozen dessert on the planet. Crispini’s winning entry is made using three types of slow-roasted Sicilian pistachio, seared with vanilla beans and caramelised sugar.