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Aug 11, 2007 09:21 AM

Confused about gelato vs. ice cream

I was sure I knew that gelato had eggs in it - but while visiting an ice cream shop in MA the guy behind the counter (Well, I must say he was young) told me that no, there were no eggs in the gelato. But I was so SURE that gelato was loaded with yolks.

Then I'm watching FoodTV and Giada not only puts yolks in her gelato she then says that gelato is different from ice cream because gelato uses both cream and milk (I rewound to make sure I heard her correctly).

WHAT? So does EVERY ice cream recipe I have. Yolks, milk and cream - that's ice cream. Is that also gelato?

Anyone know the final word on this?

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  1. Oh missy krissywats-why did you not just do the google!

    1 Reply
    1. re: UES Mayor

      Yep - sure could've but the information was already confusing (from a chef and person serving the stuff) so I figured I'd ask my ice cream homies.

      Also - often it's just as easy to ask a question here then have to sort through pages of google information. And then suddenly on chowhound, you get to talk to a chef, or someone who makes gelato or ice cream for a living.

      Thanks for the link. Interesting. Keep in mind that wikipedia is STILL just information from users - streamlined for sure, but not necessarily any more factual than chowhound plus I get to have a conversation about it here which allows me to ask follow up questions, if necessary. Wiki won't talk to sad.

      (I think I posted this in the wrong place, so I'm gonna report my own post.)

    2. All the gelato recipes I've seen use whole milk, not cream. Ice cream recipes use cream. Both use eggs.

      I don't know if that's the definitive difference, but it's what I've noticed anecdotally.

      1. Here's an educated opinion... but an opinion nonetheless:

        Eggs are optional both ways. Frozen custard MUST have eggs. Less dairy fat and denser texture are the hallmarks of gelato. Modern super-premium ice creams are VERY dense. Many brands of Gelato have lots of dairy fat. In modern usage it all depends on who is the target market. Sad, but true.

        1. "gelato" is a general term for any sort of frozen milk or cream-based dessert treat in italian (much like "biscotti" really just means cookie).

          but gelato is denser than ice cream because it has much less air in it (a different freezing process is used when making it). it can be made of milk, cream, soy milk, rice milk, whatever. non-dairy gelatos are actually quite good and it's the lower fat content that makes the flavors so much richer. if it is dairy-based it will have a lower milk-fat content than ice cream. gelato has a stabilizing agent in it as well, which may or may not be eggs, to keep the correct consistency one it has been made. traditionally it's eggs, but not as much anymore.

          all of these factors mean that gelato production is an extremely personal and varies greatly with whoever is preparing it.

          ta da!

          2 Replies
          1. re: kimberlya

            Thanks to you both! That makes loads of sense. I've never really been stuck on names but was curious as to the obvious differences and am glad to know this info. I think I'd only ever heard of eggs being used as a stabilizer so was confused when told 'no eggs'.

            What else is used for a stabilizer? Gelatin?

            1. re: krissywats

              Eggs provide richness and a smooth texture in addition to their stabilizing ability. I think gelatin is used comercially, along with agar agar, carrageenan, and xantham gum. And, for the record, pretty natural. I'm not 100 percent sure about this though.

          2. Well, this is a late reply, but for anyone else reading this here is my understanding after researching it myself.

            Gelato in Italy is not the same as Ice Cream in America. Sadly, most Americans use the term interchangeably as if they are speaking Italian to describe their homemade ice cream. Its like calling a stew the same as beef bourguignon just to sound better, clearly not the same without the wine.

            So Gelato has a few differences, its usually lower in fat using more milk then cream.

            It usually has less air whipped into it, while Ice Cream can be 50 percent air.

            This is what makes ice cream seem smooth but also why home ice cream makers can never make a true Gelato. They whip air into the mixture. Hence, the reason home Gelato machines are a lot more expensive. They work a little differently.

            Gelato has almost no ice crystals in it while "ice cream" is supposed to. Again, this is why a slow mixing method in special machines is different from an ice cream maker.

            Usually no eggs. I know, custards make things smooth, but in spite of what you have heard, its an American thing to make things seem smooth not Italian. In fact, if you go to a real Gelato place, they might have 20 flavors to choose from and several separated out as what they call custard base...AKA American ice cream.

            Gelato is usually kept and served at a slightly warmer temperature. About 15 degrees. This makes it seem smoother.

            Gelato is more intensely flavored. This is because its more pure in the sense there are not half a dozen eggs masking the main flavor component. Also, because there is very little air, its more dense than ice cream. It may contain cream, but usually based more on whole milk or a 50/50 ratio.

            Gelato in the north of Italy is different from the south. In southern Italy, they use a base that is similar to corn starch which thickens up the mixture. In fact you can use corn starch, just Google "Corn Starch Ice Cream". So no eggs needed, less fat and more flavor comes through.

            All of this means that Gelato is more smooth, intensely flavored and dense. It may taste more rich, creamy, decedent and sinful, but in reality, its far less fattening then regular ice cream....who knew!