Gelato vs. Ice Cream: What’s the Difference?
Walk around any urban center at the height of summer, and you’re bound to pass faces buried deep in a creamy, frozen dessert.
Although it may be difficult to tell the difference between ice cream and gelato from a distance, they are quite distinct.
This article explains the origins of ice cream and gelato, the differences between them, and which makes a healthier treat.
Gelato and ice cream are creamy, frozen desserts made from ingredients including dairy and sugar.
Origins of ice cream and gelato
While it’s unknown who invented ice cream, its earliest renditions trace back to ancient China. A mix of buffalo milk, flour, and ice was said to be a favorite dessert of King Tang of Shang (1, 2).
Later versions of the dessert included fruit, juice, or honey served over fresh mountain snow (2).
Ice cream evolved to include dairy from cows and eventually egg yolks, and it became a delicacy reserved for the elite. Cream ice, as it was called, graced the dessert bowls of Charles I and his guests in the 17th century (2).
However, ice cream did not become a popular dessert until the 19th century when technological advances in the dairy industry and refrigeration techniques allowed manufacturers to make and distribute it cheaply and in large quantities.
The first ice cream machine was invented in the mid-19th century (2).
Gelato was first made in Italy, though there is some confusion over where it originated. Some believe it was first made in Sicily while others believe it originated in Florence.
How they’re made
Gelato and ice cream share three main ingredients — dairy, sugar, and air. The difference lies in their proportions (2, 3).
Dairy (milk, cream, or both) and sugar are combined, mixed evenly, and pasteurized. Natural or artificial flavors are then folded in. Next, air is incorporated by churning the mix before freezing it (2, 3).
The overrun is a measure of how much air is added into the ice cream or gelato during production. Gelato has low overrun, whereas ice cream has high overrun (2).
Ice cream is churned fast, which folds in lots of air. Therefore, its volume increases by a large percentage as it’s being made (2).
In addition to containing more air than gelato, ice cream also packs more cream, which translates to a high fat content. What’s more, ice cream typically includes egg yolks, whereas gelato rarely will. Instead, gelato usually contains more milk (1).
Egg yolks can add fat and act as a stabilizer. Commercial ice cream can also include other stabilizers, such as guar gum. These help bind the water and fat in the ice cream batter (1).
Stabilizers also keep the batter free of large ice crystals, which can be unpleasant to eat (1).
There are many different origin stories for both ice cream and gelato. Ice cream contains more air and fat, while gelato has less air and more milk.
While ice cream and gelato may appear similar, they’re quite distinct. This article examines the main differences between ice cream and gelato, as well as which makes a healthier treat.
How much is gelato
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