What exactly is the difference between Gelato and Ice Cream

Ever wondered what sets gelato and ice cream apart? While they may look, taste, and feel quite similar, the differences between gelato and ice cream go more than skin deep. Read on to find out the key differences in ingredients, calorie content, texture, and flavor.

What exactly is the difference between Gelato and Ice Cream

If you have known anyone who has ever been to Italy, you’ll know they come back from their trip saying “Gelato is SO much better than Ice Cream”! Even back in the US “gelato” sales and pop-ups have become more popular than Ice Cream. But what is really the difference between gelato and ice cream? Is one “better” than the other?

If you have tasted both, take a minute now and just think about what the visual and textural differences are: for me, if I think about Ice Cream, I imagine Ben & Jerry, Phish Food, filled with delicious extra textures like chocolate bits, caramel, nuts, etc. But if I think about gelato, it usually is only the gelato, no added bits, but much creamier and smoother than ice cream. In a way, this is one of the biggest differences. 

In short, what is the difference between gelato and ice cream?

Gelato’s ingredients are simply Milk, Cream, Sugar, and whatever flavoring, using more milk than cream. Ice Cream uses Milk, Cream Sugar, and Egg Yolks, plus flavoring. Ice Cream is churned quickly and adds more air into the mixture, you can see that in all the little air bubbles you tend to see in Ice Cream. Gelato instead is most often slow-churned, keeping that dense creamy texture.  Also, there is a huge difference in commercial vs. craft ice cream and gelato.

In Italy you often find artisan gelato made in small batches on-site, this means it is mixed with simple ingredients nothing extra. When in Italy look for the sign “Produzione Propia”. This means you are more often than not, buying authentic natural gelato. Outside Italy, it is rare to find craft ice cream makers, so most likely you are buying high sugar and mixtures with extra ingredients necessary for preservation or sweetness.

So is one better?

Well, technically gelato would be healthier, As it more often has natural ingredients. It also has less fat content!

But if we are comparing gelato and craft ice cream they are about the same.

Some Gelato facts:

  • In Italy, it’s weird if you choose only one gelato flavor. All cups and cones are offered with at least 2-3 flavors. Some places do price by the number of flavors.
  • The most popular flavors in Italy are Chocolate and Hazlenut
  • ⅓ of Italians eat gelato 4-5 times a week during summer 
  • We eat gelato year-round, only very few gelaterias change their hours or close down for winter
  • Cream flavors are more popular than fruit: 73% choose at least one cream flavor.
  • The average Italian eats 12 kilos of gelato each year (oops I probably am around 20)
  • There are 39,000 gelaterias in Italy, and the industry provides 150,000 jobs

How to pick the RIGHT Gelateria in Italy

If you see mountains of gelato piling out of the containers, all lined up in the window, probably a sign it is fake. But oh, I know it is a great photo for the gram. Also have a look at the color, the only color in natural quality gelato should be fruit, but of course, that fades a bit when you work the gelato. SO if you see really bright colors probably commercial.

Texture and Body. That is right, Italians look at gelato just like wine. The body should be soft and creamy, there should be no crystals. 

 This one may seem silly, but can the employees tell you about the gelato? Are they happy to elaborate? That is a sure sign is it an artisanal production and they are proud of their product!

Explore my favorite Gelaterie

I have made a special interactive Map sharing some of the best gelaterie in Rome. Have a look here.

And if you are looking for more recommendations in your Italian destination, check out my Italy Travel Services.

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And if you are looking for more help on your journey of making Italy home or looking for local insight to plan the best trip, get in touch, let me help you experience authentic Italy.