Gelato vs. Ice Cream: What's the difference?

The concept of flavored ice first appeared in the ancient Achaemenid Empire of modern day Iran. The concept spread widely during the Greek and Roman Empires becoming a staple of the ruling class throughout the Western world. It was not until modern refrigeration that ice cream became an everyday treat for the common man.

The Itialian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli is credited with introducing the modern form of gelato in the late 1600s in his cafe in Paris. From there, its popuarity spread throughout Europe. Modern ice cream grew out of the European tradition.

But what is the major difference between ice cream and gelato? Ice cream is generally made with a combination of cream and milk. The finished product is 10% or more milk fat (often closer to 20% in very rich ice creams). Gelato is made with whole milk rather than cream and ends up with a milk fat content closer to 7-8%. So gelato is generally lower in fat than ice cream. Gelato tends to be denser and richer in flavor then ice cream with a lower fat content. How is that possible?

To answer that, we have to put on our science hat for a minute. Frozen dairy based desserts are considered a colloidal emulsion, in other words a fat-based foam that combines a fat and a liquid that would normally not mix together. Foam is created by incorporating air into a liquid. The air bubbles are trapped within the liquid due to the structure of the proteins and fats in the liquid. This structure, as well as the frozen temperature of the ice cream allows this colloidal emulsion to maintain its composition. We don't think of ice cream as a foam because the air bubbles are too small to see (1/10 of a millimeter diameter). In the ice cream industry the incorporation of air is called "overrun" and is different than the actual air content of a finished frozen dessert. An ice cream with 100% overrun has had enough air incorporated into it to double in volume from its initial state. It is now 50% air. The cheapest commercial ice creams tend to have 100% overrun as air is cheaper than ingredients (but the flavor and richness suffer)! 

A typical ice cream recipe will call for somewhere between 50-100% overrun. But gelato is usually around 25% overrun. Thus, there is far less air incorporated into gelato making for richer flavor and creamier texture using less fat content. In order to achieve this lower air incorporation, gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream.

Modern gelato is stored at a higher temperature than ice cream and can be molded and structured into attractive displays. This warmer temperature also increases how the flavors effect our palette, as colder temperatures tend to minimize gustatory sensation.

Gelato is also largely produced in-house in small batches at gelato shops and cafes. Using a batch freezer, the shop can quickly and safely produce a wide variety of gelato flavors. Gelato is also viewed as a higher quality product, due to its long history in Europe and the tradition of artisinal gelato shops. Using our wide variety of bases and flavor pastes as well as variegates from the leading gelato ingredient manufactures, you can produce beautiful and delicious gelato in a multitude of flavors. 

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