Gelato is not simply the “Italian word for ice cream.” It is an Italian treat that some say is even more decadent than the creamiest American ice cream. Both are delectable frozen treats, but the basic difference is how much air is added during production.
Premium ice creams are made with higher quality ingredients such as fresh cream instead of powdered or condensed milk and real eggs. Lower quality ice creams have extra air mixed in, creating a softer ice cream. Manufacturers add air to help ice cream scoop more easily and stretch production, but some brands might contain as much as 55 percent air. The higher quality the ice cream, the less air is added to it.
No air is added to gelato, giving it a rich, creamy texture that cannot be duplicated in any premium ice cream. An unavoidable small amount of air does sneak into the mixture as it churns, but gelato usually contains less than 15 percent air. Gelato contains more milk and less cream, creating a treat that is actually lower in fat than most ice creams. Because it is more dense than ice cream, it provides a decadent treat that does not taste “low fat.”
Ice Cream History
The first modern recipes for ice cream appeared in America and England in the 18th century. Throughout the 19th century, ice cream was a special treat for the rich because most people were not able to keep it cold enough. As electricity became more common in the 20th century, ice cream became more popular. In the 1980s and 1990s, premium ice creams such as Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs appeared.
Gelato first appeared in Italy in the 16th century. Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli of Sicily was one of the first to sell it to the public. He opened a cafe in Paris in 1686 and served gelato, which means “frozen” in Italian. Because gelato is similar to the word gelatin, many falsely assume the two are related.
Because basic gelato recipes contain less fat than ice cream, the flavorings become more important. The higher fat content of ice cream can sometimes overpower subtle or light flavors that shine in a gelato. Gelato is traditionally made in smaller batches than most ice creams, resulting in a tastier homemade quality. Fresher ingredients means you will see much brighter colors in a gelateria case than in an ice cream parlor.
High-quality ice creams and gelato often are served at higher temperatures than other ice creams. Ice cream is usually kept frozen at a lower temperature than gelato, which means gelato stays in a softer state than ice cream. Gelato is typically served with a spoon from a specialized tray, while ice cream is scooped from tubs with an ice cream scoop.