I think it’s safe to say, if you’ve lived in America for any length of time, you’ve probably eaten ice cream. From sundaes and apple pie accompaniments, to root beer floats and the almighty summer cone, its popularity is legion. According to a study conducted by Yahoo Food, ice cream is America’s favorite dessert. (It emerged victorious with 41% of the vote, demolishing the second favorite—cake—by more than 20%.)
No less delicious, but not as common in the U.S., is ice cream’s precursor, gelato. Originating in Italy (and translating to “ice cream”), you’d be forgiven for thinking gelato was the same as ice cream, albeit with a fancier, more sophisticated name—and higher price tag. But the two have numerous differences.
What’s the difference between ice cream and gelato?
In a nutshell, gelato is ice cream’s smoother, denser, silkier, and weirdly creamier cousin. From the ingredients to the preparation and storage, there are more differences between these frozen treats than you might imagine.
Milk vs. cream content: Though both are made from a custard base of milk, cream, and sugar, the proportions vary. Ice cream, perhaps not surprisingly, contains more cream than milk, where gelato is made with more milk than cream.
Eggs: When it comes to eggs, ice cream contains yolks, while most modern recipes for gelato don’t contain any eggs.
Butterfat: According to The Spruce Eats, “Legally ice cream has to have a minimum of 10 percent fat” (though it often has between 14 and 25%). Authentic gelato contains significantly less fat at 4-9%.
Air: Bet you never thought about how much air is in that scoop of rocky road, but it’s a lot. Gelato is churned more slowly than ice cream, infusing it with less air and lending it a denser consistency. By contrast, ice cream is whipped at a high speed, creating a fluffier final product. (Gelato is 25-30% air, whereas ice cream can contain as much as 50% air.)
Storage: They’re both frozen, but ice cream is a little more frozen. To maintain the proper consistency, ice cream is usually stored at 0°F, while gelato is stored at 15°F—which is why it’s softer and easier to eat straight out of the freezer than ice cream.
The frozen factor also—at least partially—explains why the flavor of gelato is more pronounced; your mouth is less numb while eating it. The other reason, according to classically trained gelato-maker and author Morgan Morano is that, “Butterfat coats your palate, and if you have less of it you can taste the flavors more quickly.”
So go forth and consume either—or better yet, both—of these delectable frozen treats with a little more knowledge.