Just like ice cream is firmly engrained in American culture, gelato is a favorite dessert staple in Italy. It looks a lot like ice cream, sure, but what is it exactly?
Ice cream is made with primarily full-fat cream, whereas gelato is usually made with whole milk, so it contains less fat than ice cream. It’s also churned at a much slower pace than ice cream, resulting in a product that’s dense, super-creamy, and less fluffy than ice cream because there’s less air mixed in. Also, ice cream generally has egg yolks mixed into the base, and gelato uses fewer yolks.
Because gelato contains less fat and less air, it’s actually suggested that it be served at a temperature about 15 degrees warmer than ice cream. If you were to serve gelato at the usual ice cream temperature, it would be a solid frozen block!
Gelato also usually has big, bold flavors, not hidden by cold fat like ice cream’s flavors usually are. At the end of the day, however, these are just guidelines. The vast majority of gelato does play by these rules, but individual recipes vary greatly. But if anyone ever asks you the difference, you now know the answer: less fat, less air, more creamily delicious density.