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Gelato vs Ice Cream: What’s the Difference?


Afters Ice Cream
Afters Ice Cream

Nothing is more satisfying on a hot day (or any day!) than a colorful cup of gelato or several scoops of ice cream precariously piled high on a waffle cone. So, gelato vs ice cream…is there really any difference? While equally delicious, ice cream and gelato are not the same.

What is Gelato?

Gelato is a frozen Italian dessert that comes in a multitude of flavors, from rich, dense chocolate to juicy and tart lemon to delightful and satisfying stracciatella (sweet cream with dark chocolate shards). 

The main difference between gelato and ice cream is that gelato has more milk and less cream than ice cream, making gelato have a denser and smoother consistency.

Classic gelato flavors include:

  • Amarena: Amarena cherry and sweet cream
  • Bacio: chocolate hazelnut
  • Cioccolato fondente: dark chocolate
  • Fior di latte: sweet cream
  • Fragola: strawberry
  • Nocciola: hazelnut
  • Pistacchio: pistachio
Ferrara Bakery Traditional Gelato
Ferrara Bakery Traditional Gelato
Nancy Silverton's Nancy's Fancy
Nancy Silverton’s Nancy’s Fancy Gelato

What’s the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

The main difference between gelato and ice cream is the dairy content, consistency, and history. 

Gelato has more milk and less cream than ice cream. It has a denser, smoother consistency. Ice cream is a Chinese invention that has been popularized in America. Gelato is an Italian invention that is now popular worldwide.

Gelato vs Ice Cream


Gelato and ice cream are both made with cream, milk, and sugar. They are sometimes made with egg yolks. Gelato has less cream and less fat than ice cream. Gelato contains more milk than ice cream.

To be labeled as ice cream in the U.S., ice cream must have at least 10% milkfat. Many ice creams have more than 10% milkfat. Gelato has less milkfat, as little as 4%.


Ice cream is fluffier and has a creamier consistency than gelato. Gelato has a silky mouthfeel and more intense flavor because it is denser.


Ice cream has a base that has more cream than milk, making it richer and creamier than gelato. Ice cream should not be confused with its even creamier cousin, frozen custard, which must contain a minimum of 1.4 percent egg yolk solids. 

Gelato is churned slowly as it cools. Whereas ice cream is mixed at high speeds, gelato is mixed at slow speeds, keeping air to a minimum. Gelato is served at a warmer temperature and is not fully frozen. It’s softer and easier to scoop than ice cream.

Dolcezza Gelato
Dolcezza Gelato
Graeters Ice Cream
Graeter’s Ice Cream


Ice cream was first made by the Chinese in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), but it was far from what we enjoy today. American Jacob Fussell pioneered modern ice cream production in the 19th century.

Gelato was invented by Bernardo Buontalenti in the 16th century and popularized in the 17th century by a Sicilian who opened a Parisian cafe that served the frozen treat.


Ice cream is mixed at high speeds, which makes it airy. It is served frozen, making it harder to scoop. 
Gelato is not served completely frozen. Gelato is churned much more slowly than ice cream, creating a dense and soft texture.


Ice cream is sold in ice cream shops, trucks, and soda fountains and from carts and dairy farm stands. It is scooped from large round or rectangular cartons. 

It is more versatile and served in many ways, including with toppings. This frozen dessert is often served with other desserts, such as pies, brownies, cakes and cookies.

Gelato is sold in gelaterias and carts and spaded from round containers of carefully sculpted mounds often adorned with whatever creates the flavor: berries for frutti di bosco (mixed berry) and hazelnuts for bacio and nocciola. 

It is typically served without toppings, but it may be accompanied by chocolate candy, panna montata (whipped cream), and pizzelle (a thin Italian-style waffle cookie).

Which is Healthier Gelato or Ice Cream?

Gelato is healthier than ice cream because it has less cream. Gelato has fewer egg yolks than ice cream and, oftentimes, does not have any eggs. As a result, it tends to have fewer calories, fat, and sugar.

Most Famous Gelato and Ice Cream (By the Pint)

Here’s the scoop. We’ve picked the perfect pints of the world’s most famous gelato and ice cream.

Nancy Silverton's Nancy's Fancy Gelato

Nancy Silverton’s Nancy’s Fancy

James Beard Award-winner Nancy Silverton, who was head chef at Spago in Los Angeles, founded La Brea bakery, and baked exceptional pizzas at her Mozza restaurants, makes some of the world’s best gelato at her eponymous Los Angeles Nancy Silverton’s Nancy’s Fancy. Nancy’s Fancy flavors include:

  • Amarena Cherry with Amaretti
  • Italian Custard with Marsala & Citrus Caramel Swirl
  • Meyer Lemon Torrone
Sweet Magnolia Gelato

Sweet Magnolia Gelato

Oxford, Mississippi’s Sweet Magnolia Gelato makes small batches with a Southern twist. Founded in 2011 by Hugh Balthrop, they use locally-sourced ingredients from local farmers markets and dairy farms. Sweet Magnolia Gelato flavors include:

  • Delta Butter Pecan
  • Ms. Mary’s Pound Cake
  • Whiskey and Pecans
Sloan's Ice Cream

Sloan’s Ice Cream

Founded by chef Sloan Kamenstein in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1999, Sloan’s Ice Cream makes small batch ice cream and scoops it in shops with decor as whimsical as the ice cream flavors. Sloan’s Ice Cream’s creative, flavorable, and fun flavors include:

  • Almond Joy
  • Carrot Cake
  • Coffee & Doughnuts
Bassetts Ice Cream

Bassetts Ice Cream

The oldest ice cream shop in the U.S., Bassetts Ice Cream has been scooping ice cream at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market since 1892 (founded in 1861). Each scoop is smooth, creamy, and contains 16.5% butterfat. Bassetts Ice Cream flavors include:

  • Butterscotch Vanilla
  • Coffee Fudge Truffle
  • Raspberry Truffle

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