Although the word for ice cream is 'gelato,' these two frozen treats are actually two very different things. On the one hand, there's ice cream which is fluffy, filling, indulgent, and creamy. On the other hand, there's gelato which is dense, rich, and decadent. Each one of these serves a purpose in terms of what a person might be craving and how they want to eat it but that doesn't make them similar foods. Ice cream has a long history with custard and eggs, in particular, while gelato is best friends with milk and focuses on the main flavor ingredient.
When it comes to which one is better, there are several things that come into play before deciding which is the ultimate frozen treat. Ice cream has a long-standing history in the U.S. and France, before that, while gelato's Italian roots make it somewhat exotic and thrilling. So, which will it be? Comfort food ice cream, or bold and rich gelato? Maybe the decision will be easier after reading this... or not.
Ice Cream Is All About Texture And Satisfaction
The difference in composition between ice cream and gelato comes down to its chemical makeup. Ice cream is considered to be a frozen dairy treat and is always made with milk, sugar, cream, and egg yolks. The base of each ice cream is custard and to that, flavorings are added to create various ice cream flavors. You would think that this would make ice cream denser than gelato due to the hefty use of dairy in each recipe but that's actually not true - ice cream is the lighter of the two in terms of mouthfeel. Additionally, ice cream will always have a mouthfeel that fully coats the mouth, making each bite feel velvety and smooth. With that being said, one does sacrifice some flavor for the texture of ice cream as the dairy will always take center stage over flavorings.
You may have noticed that when you eat a spoonful of ice cream, the ice cream itself and any additives (chocolate chips, nuts, caramel sauce, fudge, etc.) taste separate. There's a definitive sense of when each flavor of ice cream begins and ends versus when each flavor ingredient begins and ends. That's not to say that ice cream is not cohesive but it is to say that when it comes to uniformity, it's more of a challenge to achieve with ice cream than with gelato. Ice cream is also served at a lower temperature than gelato, which results in a truly frozen treat that holds together well. This is also the best choice for ice cream sundaes and anything that will be built upon the frozen dairy as a dessert.
Gelato Is All About Flavor And Less About Texture
When we're talking about a scoop of gelato, the difference here is pretty obvious, too. Those who are fans of this frozen treat might notice that the flavor is on-point but the texture is not very much like that of ice cream at all. The reason behind this is simple: the use of milk over cream and less, or no, eggs in the recipe. This is how gelato is able to retain its density and compact, in a way, flavors. You'll notice that chocolate gelato is far more chocolatey than chocolate ice cream, but it doesn't have the same fluff and smoothness ice cream has. Therefore, you truly are sacrificing a full mouthfeel for a frozen treat that doubles down on the flavor.
Gelato is also churned far more slowly than ice cream which also allows it to maintain its dense formula. It's served at a higher temperature than ice cream so it does melt more quickly but with no fluffy, light texture to maintain, this is never really a big issue. Another interesting point to make is that ice cream usually contains anywhere from 10% to 25% fat, while gelato contains anywhere from 4% to 9%. Something to consider with this, though, are the ingredients whipped into the ice cream and the flavor because that will also affect the percentages. The great thing about gelato over ice cream, though, is that it won't give that brain freeze that so many of us are used to with the cooler temperature of the latter.
Which One Is Better?
In all fairness, this is an answer that can only be decided by the individual who is faced with eating the two. They're both delicious in their own right but if you're bound for texture and appreciate the smooth coolness that ice cream offers, that's your winner. If you're all about flavors and could care less about how they're delivered then gelato might just be the option for you.