Italian Ice and Gelato are both frozen Italian desserts, but the ingredients used and the process to make them create very different culinary experiences. If you’re curious about the difference between the two, here is the answer!
When it comes to frozen desserts, there are plenty of options on the market. There is ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, shaved-ice, frozen custard, granita and more.
It’s amazing how essentially the same ingredients and flavors have been used all over the world to create desserts that are completely different from one other.
I think we can all agree that if you are craving something sweet and refreshing, you really can’t go wrong with a frozen dessert. But if you are looking for something specific, it may be helpful to understand the difference between your choices.
Today I’m offering a closer look at two frozen Italian treats – Italian Ice and Gelato – and what makes each irresistible in its own unique way.
What is Italian Ice?
Italian ice is a frozen treat typically flavored with fruit juice or fresh fruit puree and sugar.
It is often lumped in with dairy products like ice cream, but what makes Italian ice unique is that it is made completely dairy free and egg free. Many vendors may even offer sugar free flavors.
Italian Ice is most closely-related to American shaved ice, but the process to make it is very different.
What is Gelato?
Gelato is an Italian word that directly translates to “ice cream”, but it is not exactly like American ice cream. Ice cream is more like Gelato’s American cousin.
The main difference between Gelato and Ice Cream is that it is made with more milk and less cream, so ice cream has a higher fat content. Gelato is churned at a much slower speed than ice cream which allows less air into the mixture and results in a denser dessert. Both are made with a custard base but gelato doesn’t usually contain any egg products.
Gelato may be offered in many fruit flavors, but it’s also common to see it offered in the same flavors as ice cream like vanilla, chocolate, espresso and mint.
How are Italian Ice and Gelato Different From Each Other?
Italian ice is made with fruit juice (usually from concentrate)/puree and sugar/another sweetener. It doesn’t contain any eggs or dairy.
Gelato is made with milk, cream and sugar. One big difference is that it does not typically include egg yolks, which are a popular ingredient in premium ice cream or frozen custard.
Because Italian Ice contains no dairy, the flavors are pretty limited to fruit flavors. Still, there are plenty of options for different fruits to use.
Gelato has more variety when it comes to flavor. It may be flavored with fruits, cream, nuts, coffee, cookies or other natural ingredients. Modern gelato may be sold in flavors like pistachio, cookies and cream, dark chocolate or nutella.
Good gelato is often described as having a rich flavor because it contains less fat and less air than ice cream.
How It’s Made
Authentic Italian Ice is made by combining the fruit and sugar (or sweetener) and then continually mixing the ingredients during the freezing process. This breaks up the ice as it mixes, creating a smoother texture than shaved ice or a snow cone. Some manufacturers may freeze the ingredients and then crush them and whip in the air.
Italian ice is then poured into a container and frozen solid. It is scooped and served in a cup.
Some people will shave or crush ice and pour a flavored syrup on top and call it Italian Ice, but this process describes snow cones or shaved ice. It is not the same as Italian ice.
Gelato is also mixed together and churned while being frozen, but it is churned at a much slower rate than ice cream which results in less air coming into the mixture. Gelato comes out much more dense than ice cream or Italian Ice with a richer and creamier texture.
Gelato is also poured into a container and frozen. In stores the different flavors are topped with fresh ingredients, showing off the diverse and colorful flavors.
The process to make gelato is a bit more complicated than that of Italian Ice, which may lead to it being more expensive to produce and to buy.
Gelato has a smooth texture and looks creamy. It is very thick and dense and has a richer texture than traditional ice cream.
Italian ice is also thick and dense, but without any cream the texture is more icy. It may be slightly rough, though this depends on the process and the manufacturer. A good quality Italian ice will be smooth or slushy.
The final product of both should be thick enough to scoop into picture-perfect scoops.
Italian Ice and Gelato are both sweet treats. As such, they should be enjoyed in moderation.
Gelato has more fat than Italian Ice, because of the cream and milk in it. However, this creamy frozen dessert has lower fat content than ice cream.
Italian ice may have just as much, or even a higher sugar content than gelato.
Many people find that because gelato is so rich and dense, they feel satisfied with a smaller serving. It is often served in a smaller serving size than other frozen desserts. You may find yourself eating a bigger serving of Italian ice because the flavor is fruity and the calories are low.
Which One Should You Try?
There is no way to determine if Italian ice or gelato is better! The decision is completely up to you and your taste buds.
If you are looking for something refreshing, fruity and vegan, then Italian ice is a popular choice.
If you want something rich, indulgent and with a creamy texture, then gelato is your best bet.
Either way–you cannot go wrong! If you’re still undecided, read on to learn about French VS Italian Macarons and you’ll really have a dilemma!