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!
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Filed under: Traditional Foods