What's the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

Gelato ice cream
hdagli/Getty Images

Gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream, right? Is there really any difference between gelato and ice cream?

If you've ever visited Italy, you probably experienced creamy, delicious gelato. And maybe you assumed that the only reason it seemed richer and more intensely flavored than American ice cream back home was because you were enjoying it on the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, rather than on your couch back home.

But there are actually a few main differences between gelato and ice cream. To find out, I asked Alon Balshan, owner of Alon's Bakery and Market in Atlanta, whose own gelato is quickly becoming a favorite among frozen-treat connoisseurs there.

Alon explained to me that while ice cream legally has a minimum of 10 percent fat, gelato is made with a greater proportion of whole milk to cream, so it contains more like five to seven percent fat.

But don't expect to be able to get Italian gelateria-style results by making a gelato recipe in your home ice cream machine: Alon also said that because gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, it's denser because less air is whipped into the mixture. (Gelato contains about 25 to 30 percent air, while ice cream can contain as much as 50 percent air) Finally, while ice cream is typically served frozen, gelato is typically stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature, around 15˚F, so it's not quite completely frozen.

What's more, while ice cream flavors run the gamut (Ovaltine Ice Cream or Rye Bread Ice Cream with Poached Apples and Caramel, anyone?), there are a few classic flavors you'll find in gelato form: vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, and stracciatella (vanilla with crunchy chocolate pieces), to name a few.

gelato vs. ice cream illustration
 Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

To make truly authentic gelato at home, you can use De'Longhi's home gelato maker, which has a built-in compressor that chills the mixture without using a pre-frozen bowl. Read the review of the De'Longhi Gelato Maker.

As for that amazing, rich flavor, Alon says, "Since there's not as much fat in gelato, it doesn't coat the mouth in the same way. So the flavors are more intense."

But one thing ice cream and gelato do have in common: you won't be able to resist just one more scoop!