What is Gelato and Gelato Versus Ice Cream

What is Gelato? Many of our customers try gelato for the first time in our Kauai store. They often ask, What is the difference between gelato and ice cream. Additionally, people who have tried gelato before or who have heard of gelato at times have misconceptions about what gelato is and how it is made. On any given day, we get 100’s if not over a 1000 people in our gelato and chocolate shop and our best guess is that 25-35% of our customers will ask what Gelato is, how it is different than ice cream, and other related questions. To help understand what Gelato is and why it is better than ice cream, we thought we would provide some information.

First of all, Gelato means frozen (or at least most seem to agree on this) in Italian. Gelato and Ice Cream exist for the same purpose. Each was created to satisfy our desires for a cold and creamy dessert.

Is there Gelatin in Gelato?

No. We assume people think this because it is called Gelato.

What makes Gelato … gelato?

The simple answer is air or really the lack of it. While there are differences in the ingredients (minor), the real difference is the way the equipment is designed to make Gelato versus Ice Cream. Gelato equipment is designed to incorporate the least possible air into the mix as it is being frozen. Ice Cream equipment is designed to incorporate lots of air as it is being frozen. The more air in any frozen product, the higher the risk of ice crystals being formed and the colder and icier the mouth feel can be. Ice Cream has can have as much as 50% or more added air. Gelato, depending on the flavor, will likely have no more than 15-20%. Less air means a denser product with a smoother and creamy mouth feel. The other big difference is the amount of added fat. Ice cream must be made with a minimum of 10% butterfat and most premium ice creams have over 20% butterfat. Our Gelato has a less than 6% butterfat and 20-30% less calories than most ice cream.

Does gelato contain gluten?

Our gelato base is not made with any ingredients containing gluten. This means all of our gelato flavors are gluten free unless we are adding a flavor, sauce, or other ingredient made with gluten. This means most of our flavors are gluten free and those containing gluten do so because of the specific flavor, like cookies and cream, pineapple upside down cake, pecan pie, brownies and cream etc.

Why is Gelato lower in fat than Ice Cream?

Again, the answer is air. To compensate for the amount of added air, ice cream makers add heavy cream. Some add lots of heavy cream. Most ice cream will list cream as the first or second ingredient. This means lots of added fat. The more air in any frozen product, the more added fat you need to help create a smooth and creamy texture and mouth feel. If you have ever had Ice Milk, you have tasted a product made like ice cream (meaning lots of air) but with very little fat.

So it is about the air?

Yup. The air, or really the lack of it, makes Gelato different than ice cream. Butterfat also leaves a film behind on your taste buds which reduces how you experience the taste of something. Gelato flavors are more intense and one of the reasons is the reduced amount of fat.

Is Gelato better for you than Ice Cream?

You bet! When Gelato was first being made, no one knew about how to determine how much fat and or calories were contained in food. They were just trying to make something cold, creamy, and delicious.

Does Gelato always contain eggs?

No. Eggs are used by some Gelato makers as an emulsifier, to add fat and flavor, or for specific flavors in which eggs are needed.

Is Gelato Italian for Ice Cream?

This is one of the questions we are oftentimes asked. The answer is yes and no. In the US and Canada, there are specific rules related to the labeling of frozen products. Ice cream in the US and Canada must have a minimum of 10% butterfat and specific amounts of dairy solids. So in the US, you can not refer to gelato as ice cream since gelato is so much lower in butterfat. In Europe, Ice Cream and Gelato are used to describe similar products.

But back to the question, as mentioned earlier Gelato (pronounced jeh-lah-toh) is the Italian word for “frozen”. In the context of frozen desserts, gelato refers to ice cream. Outside the US and Canada, the terms are used in similar ways. Due to the regulations in the US, we cannot really call our gelato ice cream since it has a much lower percentage of butter fat than ice cream products.

Confused? Stop in and we can discuss over a nice creamy silky flavorful gelato!

Visitor Comments:

  1. Jeannie says:

    How much sugar does gelato have in it. I am fructose intolerant and was told I could have gelato vs I e cream, but with no explanation.

    Thank u,

    • June 25 at 10:27 am
    • PapalaniGelato says:

      Aloha Jeannie,

      There is no standard as far as sugar content in Gelato. Our sugar content will be different than many others as makes ours from scratch and not a premix. Also, the sugar content varies with each flavor as some flavors will have higher sugar levels than others. Also, fruit flavors will have sugars that are naturally occurring versus added sugars. So I can not give you an easy answer since there are variables. We do make no sugar added flavors.

      From what I see on the web, it seems that high fructose corn sweeteners are to be completely avoided but do not seem much about sugar avoidance. We do not use any high fructose corn syrups and most gelato makers do not. Maybe that is why you have been told you can eat gelato and not have symptoms. Not really sure however.

      • June 30 at 8:05 am
  2. Jean S says:

    Does your gelato contain soy? I have friends with a soy allergy and don’t want to serve them Papalani gelato if it contains soy. You mention you are dairy free so usually soy is used instead.
    Thanks for you help

    • August 7 at 7:40 pm
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