Every Kind of Frozen Treat You Need to Know About

Here’s our guide to decoding the difference between gelato, ice cream, sorbet, and other similar frozen treats

Varied nutritional contents, freezing temperatures, and whipping processes differentiate frozen treats like gelato, frozen yogurt, and ice cream.

Everyone loves a frozen treat in the summer, and even the most diehard dessert fans will eat ice cream during the dead of winter. While ice cream is one of the most common frozen treats we enjoy, there’s a whole world of different frozen custards and creams, and without knowing the difference, it can be hard to choose exactly what you’re in the mood for.

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You may think of ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, frozen custard, and soft-serve as one in the same, but in terms of ingredients, texture, and nutritional content, the only thing these popular cold desserts have in common is their ability to satisfy your sweet tooth.

For example, did you know that gelato has a lower fat and calorie content than ice cream? Or that certain frozen desserts have a base that includes egg yolks, while others start with yogurts and heavy cream? Varied combinations of ingredients, freezing temperatures, and whipping processes differentiate these sweet frozen treats from each other and put them in a category all on their own.

Ice cream is a historic treat in the U.S. typically made of cream, sugar, and added flavors, containing at least 10 percent milk fat. Meanwhile, gelato originated in Italy, and contains less butterfat and sugar than ice cream and is stored at a higher temperature, making it easier to melt.

Frozen yogurt is one of the better frozen treat choice for the health conscious because it uses a yogurt base in place of a buttermilk or cream base that tends to have a higher fat content. 

Many people confuse sorbet with sherbet, but those with vegan or lactose intolerant dietary restrictions should keep in mind that while sherbet contains dairy, sorbet does not. Sorbet has a lower fat content than other frozen desserts, but can contain a lot of sugar depending on the brand. Meanwhile, sherbet contains between 1 percent to 2 percent milk fat. These two kinds of frozen treats often come in fruit flavors.

Soft Serve sets itself apart from ice cream by requiring a higher freezer temperature similar to gelato’s which is what gives the treat a softer consistency. Also like gelato, soft serve has a lower fat content than ice cream, but churned more rapidly, depriving it of gelato’s denser texture.

Finally, frozen custard takes the traditional ice cream base and adds egg yolks to give the dessert a thicker, denser quality. Frozen custard must contain at least 10 percent egg yolk solid to live up to its name, which gives the dessert a higher fat and caloric content than other frozen treats. 

Dessert is a serious matter, so we want to make sure you know your facts. Here we provide the history and nutritional information for each of these seven popular frozen treats, helping make your next dessert decision a little easier. And if you’re feeling inspired with all of your new knowledge, we’ve included easy recipes for each type of frozen dessert, so you can make your favorite variety at home.


Whether you’re searching for the perfect filler for a crowd-pleasing ice cream sandwich or a mouth-watering accompaniment to a slice of your favorite cake, look no further than this frozen treat roundup.