The Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato

As I was learning English,  my teacher would tell us that the English word for gelato is ice cream. I always thought the two were the same thing, and although they tasted different I never really thought there was a specific difference- even pasta and pizza taste different in the US! In my mind, the difference is mostly in texture- gelato melts faster and it is softer than ice cream. However, I learned the difference is deeper and it has to do with churning methods, fat content and serving temperature.

For a product to carry the label of “ice cream” in the US it has to have a minimum 10% fat content. Lower quality ice cream will be around 11 or 12%, while higher quality products will hit 16% and higher. Gelato is a different thing all together- since the milk-to-cream ratio is much higher, the fat content is significantly lower- anywhere between 3 and 8%. This is particularly important when t comes to taste, as the lower fat content doesn’t saturate your taste buds as much, and the flavors have the chance to emerge stronger. Air content is also significantly different: overrun, the difference between the weight of the ingredients and the weight of the final product given a fixed volume, used to measure the amount of air that is trapped in the final product, is about 25%-30% in gelato and usually in excess of 50% in ice cream. The reason of the different air content resides in the churning method and the processing speed. Last, but not least- serving temperature. Ice cream is served frozen, while gelato is not- hence the challenge to lick your way around the cone before it melts. You surely cannot be distracted while enjoying a gelato cone…

When gelato is showcased in the typical Italian displays, it is supposed to look more like frozen yogurt than the ice cream you are used to. The visual texture of the gelato should remind you of whipped cream rather than a grainy paste. I avoid at all costs grainy gelato: my biggest pet peeves is when I can feel the ice crystals on my tongue. The gelato mixture is supposed to rest so that the water mixes in with the fats added and doesn’t freeze. This is more challenging for fruit-based flavors, as their fat content is lower, but as an Italian born and raised I can guarantee it is possible!! My favorite gelatoin the Bay Area is still Gelateria Almare. If you have more reccomendations of places I should try, please send them my way!

All pictures courtesy of Flickr users. Click on the picture for full credits.

30 Responses to “The Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato”

  1. I never knew what the exact difference was, but I could taste it! I love gelato!

  2. I could live on gelato! I first tried it in Venice and will never forget that day.

  3. Love gelato! If you have any favorite grocery store brands, let me know!

  4. Interesting post: thanks! Whenever possible, I serve what I make fresh out of the machine. I also use less fat than the original recipe. I would like to be able to quantify fat and air content in what I make, to see how it compares.

  5. Is it okay if I’m drooling?

  6. Vanessa!

    I am so glad you posted on this subject – and coming from you it has WEIGHT! Now I am armed with all info needed for those who still think the two are the same…!

    Gabi @ mamaliga.

  7. Thank you for your wonderful article on gelato. I recently bought an ice cream maker and tried the recipe from Gaida De Laurenti for chocolate gelato and it was the closes in texture and taste. My husband loved it as did I.

  8. Vanessa, thanks for this post. There is a place in Mill Valley that claims they make gelato, it is called Cici.

    What about yolks? Does gelato contains any?

    Keep on churnin’!

  9. The enjoyment of eating true Gelato is a passion of ours. We enjoy our local Gelato Classico. They have a shop in the Danville Lunardi’s market. I think their factory is in Pittsburg/Concord.

  10. found glorious gelato at one of the Fresh Markets in my area — “TALENTI” — is the name . . .

  11. Is it possible to make Gelati in a stand up kitchen aid mixed (ice cream attachment)

  12. Have you had NAIA in Berkeley?

  13. I love gelato much more than ice cream. I am not fond of the high fat that coats the tongue. Now how can we make gelato at home?

  14. thanks for the explanation! i never knew the differences :)

  15. I’m enjoying Roba Dolce Dark Chocolate Chunck from Costco.

  16. Love Talenti gelato, especially sea salt caramel -wow!

  17. Just discovered Talenti at Whole Foods — I’m in love!

  18. What about the difference in sugar content, if any?

  19. If you come to Kauai, Hawaii try Papalani Gelatos Salt Pond gelato. It is to die for.

  20. Alas, I am not sure about that…

  21. I too, just discovered Talenti gelato… I tried the sea salt caramel flavor… Wow. I think I just replaced ice cream forever. I can sit down and eat multiple cups of ordinary ice cream, but after half a cup of this I was happily satisfied… the flavor was intense and creamy. This is good stuff, and I don’t feel the need to eat too much of it because just a little is all the tasty I can handle.

  22. Talenti gelato! The package was so beautiful, just a translucent plastic jar and a sparkling red sorbetto – Roman Raspberry. Simply wonderful!

  23. Is it possible to make at home in a ice cream machine and if so can you keep in your freezer which is I would guess is lower the temperature than gelato should be freezed. I am eager to try making a batch of gelato but do not have a gelato maker but I do have an ice cream maker.

  24. Dear Vanessa, thank you for a great post! I “googled” the “difference betw, the ice cream and gelato”; love your post – very thorough analysis along with excellent graphics.

  25. I just discovered Talenti as well…SOOO YUM! Vanilla Bean. Looking at the ingredients did, though, prompt me to search for “What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream” – and here we are!! Thank you!

  26. I found two at my Grocery store that are both very good. One is the Talenti Belgian Chocolate, which has a surprisingly rich flavor despite the light color of the Chocolate. The other I tried was Ciao Bella in Key Lime Graham. Very Tart and wonderful. I bought it trying to match a Frozen Yogurt I had tried recently, and I just have to say; this particular brand of Frozen Yogurt is outstanding! It’s called Jeni’s Lemon & Blueberries. There is a website: You must taste to believe how incredible. Plus she gives the recipes so you can make it at home!

  27. I got my answer on your blog post. I was bit confused before thats why i am searching for difference in b/w ice cream and gelato and then found your blog post.

    I am going to buy now gelato maker from delonghi –


  28. In Fort Pierce, FL at the marina there is a place called Uncle Carlos’ Gelato. He makes it fresh every morning and it is delicious – melts in your mouth. If you are this direction, it is well worth the visit.

    Now for a question: I just received a Hamilton ice cream maker. You mention that one difference between ice cream and gelato is the processing speed. What should the speed be, please? And is there a recipe site you recommend to try making gelato?


  29. I love Talenti. caramel cookie crunch is my have i love it way more than ice cream

  30. If anyone is ever in Belize (specifically, Placencia or nearby), you MUST stop at a place called “Tutti Frutti”. They have the most amazing gelato, made with pride and love, with quality local fruits and flavors.
    Blog >>
    AFAR.COM >>
    TripAdvisor >>

Leave a Reply