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.

Whether you cozy up with a pint while binge watching your favorite show, run after the ice cream truck on a summer day to buy a soft serve cone, or take a globetrotting taste test at your local gelateria, here’s the scoop on the difference between ice cream and gelato — two frozen treats make us melt.

Nancy's Fancy Gelato
Nancy Silverton’s Nancy’s Fancy-Gelato

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

Classic American ice cream flavors include:

  • Vanilla
  • Chocolate
  • Strawberry

Gelato vs Ice Cream

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 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.

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

Gelato and ice cream are both made with sugar, milk, and cream (and, sometimes, egg yolks), but gelato has less cream and less fat than ice cream. 

Ice cream has a custard base that has more cream than milk, making it richer and creamier than gelato (ice cream should not be confused with its creamier cousin, frozen custard, which must contain a minimum of 1.4 percent egg yolk solids, according to the USDA). To be labeled as ice cream in the U.S., it must have at least 10% milkfat, according to the USDA

Read More: Macaroon Vs Macaron: What’s the Difference?

Gelato is churned much more slowly than ice cream, creating a dense and soft texture. Ice cream is mixed at high speeds, which makes it airy. Ice cream is served frozen, making it harder to scoop, whereas gelato is not served completely frozen. Ice cream is fluffier and has a creamier consistency than gelato, which has a silky mouthfeel and more intense flavor.

Gelato is sold in gelaterias and spaded from squround 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. Gelato is served in cups, cones, and in affogatos (a shot or two of hot espresso poured over one or two scoops of gelato). Gelato is typically served without toppings, but may be accompanied by a dollop of panna montata (whipped cream) and/or pizzelle, a thin Italian-style waffle cookie.

Bassetts Ice Cream
Bassetts Ice Cream

Ice cream is sold in ice cream shops and soda fountains. It is scooped from large round or rectangular cartons. It is more versatile and served in cups, cones, shakes, and floats plus in other frozen formats like ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, and ice cream cakes

Ice cream is often served with toppings like hot fudge, caramel, or fruit sauces, whipped cream, nuts, and/or candy. Sundaes and banana splits are classic versions of ice cream topped with hot sweet sauces, mounds of whipped cream, nuts, and a maraschino cherry. 

Because of its solid frozen state, ice cream can be served in unique ways like:

Now that you know the difference between gelato and ice cream, it’s time for a tasty taste test. Make it a sundae funday every day with ice cream kits and Goldbelly ice cream subscriptions. Order your favorite gelato and ice cream flavors in pints, including vegan ice cream and boozy ice cream, lickity split. Love frozen desserts? Don’t forget to shop popsicles, frozen fruit, sorbet, custard, mochi, and dippers on a stick — all shipping nationwide on Goldbelly!