There was a simpler time when we only had to burden ourselves with several flavors of ice cream. Back then, we all thought bubblegum was an outlandish flavor. Oh, how naïve we were! Now ice cream shops are smashing any and everything together to create bold, and sometimes disgusting, flavors no one saw coming.
Then there’s the gelato conundrum. Just when we were getting used to anchovy-sake-papaya flavored ice cream, we get this Italian speaking fancy-pants ice cream. And to add even more confusion, gelato comes in a million flavors too.
We can’t explain why anything can be turned into ice cream, but we can explain the difference between gelato and ice cream so that you don’t sound like a noob when you’re talking about frozen novelties at your book club.
There are two key differences between ice cream and gelato – fat and air. Fat makes sense, but air? Not really the ingredient you’d expect – mmmmm, delicious air.
If you believe that more is more, then ice cream is for you. It has more fat and much more air. Ice cream needs a fat content of at least 10 percent to be legally considered ice cream – serious stuff. If you’re caught eating illegal ice cream the King of Candy Land will sentence you to death by sprinkles.
Ice cream achieves its fattiness by adding more cream. This is what gives ice cream its buttery, lush flavor. Gelato is made with more milk than cream, lessening the fat content and allowing the flavors to come to the forefront.
Fat coats the tongue and can block other flavors from shining as brightly, not so with gelato. In gelato, flavors are more intense and immediate; they also leave the palate faster without all the sticky fat cells there to cling to the tongue.
Air enters ice cream and gelato during the churning process. When air is infused into ice cream during the churning process, it’s called overrun. Ice cream is churned at a faster rate than gelato, which causes more overrun. Typical high-end ice cream has an overrun of 25%, while lower end ice creams can have an overrun of 90%! That’s a lot of air! And whether you can taste it too, or not taste it, it’s the lack of flavor that’s noticeable.
Gelato has little to no air because it is churned very slowly. This gives gelato its trademark smooth and dense texture. This is another reason why gelato flavors seem more intense. There is less air getting in the way of the flavors.
While recipes will differ, these are the main ingredients that make ice and gelato so different. Which do you prefer? Ice cream or gelato? Let us know!