What's the Difference Between Gelato, Ice Cream, and Sorbet?
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Gelato, ice cream, and sorbet are all delicious, especially in these still steamy waning days of summer, but these three cool treats are different branches of the frozen dessert tree. Here are the creamy details:
Gelato: made with milk, cream, sugar, and possibly a flavoring (mint, espresso, fruit, etc…), gelato is made in the Italian style, which means slowly stirred by a machine while freezing, result in very little air being whipped in.
Ice cream: a generally broad term used to describe a frozen dessert, typically made with milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring. A specific characteristic of ice cream is it is churned by a machine to incorporate significant amounts of air into the dessert, creating a more whipped texture.
Sorbet: made distinctly from sweetened juice, wine, or water and always dairy free. Very little air is incorporated during the freezing process in a machine, and alcohol is often included to reduce iciness.
Sherbet: the love child of ice cream and sorbet. Juice, wine, or water-based with a small amount of dairy mixed in. Processed similar to ice cream with a small amount of air being whipped in.
Granita: made with the same ingredients as sorbet, sweetened juice, wine, or water, but produced without a machine. Granita is frozen in a standard freezer, then scraped periodically with a fork to create large ice crystals.
Italian ice: Very similar to sorbet, but is typically made without any alcohol to produce a coarser texture. The absence of alcohol and coarse texture often makes Italian ice less costly.
Frozen custard: Made with the same ingredients as ice cream but with the addition of egg yolks, creating possibly a more expensive but very dense dessert.
Soft-serve ice cream: Made with the same ingredients as ice cream, but copious amounts of air are whipped into the cream during the freezing process. The additional air is typically 50% or greater of the finished product, allowing for easy dispensing.
Shaved ice: The odd man out here, but one of my favorites. Made with thinly chipped fragments of ice and topped with a flavored syrup before serving.
On a hot summer’s day, when the humidity has zapped your energy and you’re indebted to the few lazy clouds floating by, you’re probably not questioning what exactly is in the frozen scoop on your waffle cone. Ice cream, gelato, sherbet or sorbet – these refreshing treats are not just interchangeable names! They are unique in their recipes and equally delicious, as anyone melting on a sunny afternoon will tell you.
So what makes gelato distinct from ice cream? What’s the difference between sherbet and sorbet? Let’s take a quick look at the different sweet treats you can enjoy throughout the summer:
- SORBET contains no dairy and is made with fruit and sugar. Not to be confused with…
If you have an ice cream maker, you can churn up your own frozen treats from the comfort of your home. With all the fresh fruit in season, getting creative with flavorful mix-ins is easy!
For most of us without an ice cream maker, you’re not out of luck! You can DIY your own ice cream in a re-sealable plastic bag – read instructions here. Or blend these four ingredients for a healthier “ice cream” dessert – view Banana Chocolate “Ice Cream” recipe here.
No matter how you churn, blend, or freeze it – there are countless flavors and mix-ins that will change up this delicious treat that you can share with family and friends all summer long!
Breakdown: Frozen Treats
Even a frozen treat connoisseur like myself can get confused with all the icy options out there. Grab your ice cream maker, you’ll be itching to make something after you read this.
The classic: sweet, velvety, delish. Ice cream is typically made with a combo of cream and milk (and sometimes egg yolks). Premium varieties of vanilla ice cream average about 230 calories and 13 grams of fat per ½ cup.
Ice cream ala Italy. This frozen confection is basically ice cream, but less is more! Gelato is made with less air whipped into it. The result is a dense and creamy delight. The nutrition facts stack up similar to ice cream (see above) but we did find a few store-bought brands that scored lower in both the fat and calorie department. Trader Joe’s and Ciao Bella are 2 personal favorites.
Here’s where things get sticky. There are so many options in the world of frozen yogurt. Soft serve chains, homemade and store-bought all offer their own special version of this tasty treat. Overall, fro-yo offers some tummy-pleasing probiotics and will be lower in fat than ice cream. BUT the calorie content might very well be in the 200-calorier per ½ cup ballpark so check labels on your favorite brand.
Greek yogurt comes up the big winner from a nutrient standpoint and now you can even indulge in the frozen version. Many favorite brands like Ciao Bella, Stonyfield and Ben & Jerry’s have unveiled new products. Nutrition facts will average (per ½ cup vanilla) 100 to 150 calories, 0 to 5 grams of fat, and 6 to 10 grams of protein.
Have you tried this cultured beverage? Now all that tart and tangy goodness comes as a chilly treat. With only 90 calories and 1 gram of fat per serving, it’s great for smoothies.
Here’s where folks get confused . . . sherbet and sorbet aren’t one in the same. Lovingly (and incorrectly) called “sherbert” by adults and kids alike, this frosty goodie is made with dairy and therefore contains a small amount of fat. That same ½ cup serving averages 130-ish calories and 1 to 3 grams of fat. Grocery store shelves were overflowing with this stuff when I was a kid but it’s harder to come by than it used to be. Fear not, this raspberry recipe is to die for!
Last, but certainly not least is sorbet. Its defining characteristic: it’s dairy free! Mostly fruit flavors abound but Ina Garten makes a ridiculously good chocolate sorbet. The lack of dairy gives sorbet a more icy texture but that will vary depending on how much sugar there is (the more sugar, the less icy). The basic ingredients are fruit and sugar, which will run about 120 to 150 calories (and zero fat) per ½ cup. For an even icier treat, try sorbet’s closest cousin: granita.
It is not just the ingredients that separate the two, it is also the way that each is made. Ice cream and gelato must be churned to create that creamy, scoopable goodness, but it is the speed at which they are churned—and the resulting amount of air incorporated—that is different. Gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream, which creates a denser consistency since less air is whipped into the mixture. Gelato contains about 25 to 30 percent air, while ice cream can contain as much as 50 percent air.
Once the ice cream and gelato are made, they are stored at certain temperatures to maintain the right consistency. Ice cream is typically served frozen, around 0 F, whereas gelato is typically stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature, around 15 F. This means gelato is not quite completely frozen, making the texture softer and silkier than ice cream.
Gelato vs ice cream vs sorbet: What's the difference?
Australian’s have always had a love affair for frozen scoops, but the misconception between ice cream, gelato and sorbet remains at an all-time high. So, are they really any different after all?
They say life is better with ice cream and who are we to argue. Every spoonful delivers a sense of satisfaction, a feeling of instant happiness like no other. When it comes to pleasing crowds, big or small, ice cream is the obvious choice as it’s loved by all – no matter if your customers are little kids, big kids or just kids at heart.
While ice cream continues to steal the hearts of customers, gelato has recently made a comeback as people are seeking more premium options when they choose to indulge. And then you’ve got sorbets - the summer staple. Sorbets have become a menu must-have in the warmer months as they provide customers with an escape from the Aussie summer heat.
THE STAPLE INGREDIENTS DELIVERING JOY IN EVERY SCOOP
You’d be forgiven if you thought that ice cream offers a creamier, thicker texture than gelato – because in short it does. “Gelato has less fat overall, where ice cream must contain 10% milk fat or more to call it ice cream in Australia,” Everest’s R&D Manager and resident ice cream guru, Alan Thomas explained.
“So, your super premium ice creams would have more dairy fats, while your gelato range tends to have a maximum of 6.5% to 7% fat,” he continued. “And when it comes to sorbet, it’s simple – there are no traces of dairy whatsoever, making it a perfect offering for vegan customers.”
Sorbets are water-based and made with fruit, fruit juice, fruit flavours and sugar. This summer favourite contains no fat but has a higher sugar percentage compared to its freezer family members, ice cream and gelato. Sorbets also offload an acidic sweetness that is created by using fruits and sugar.
But to make things that little bit more confusing – there are water-based lemon gelato and water-based lemon sorbets available and on the surface, the two appear very similar. Across the Australian market, gelatos tend to be more premium and include traditional Italian ingredients, real fruits and are commonly presented with beautiful overflowing peaks in the tub. Whereas sorbets tend to use cheaper ingredients like fruit flavourings, making them a more mainstream offer that are available at a cheaper price.
THE PRODUCTION PROCESS THEY FOLLOW
While the ingredients in ice cream and gelato are quite similar, so too is their production process. Both sweet treats are produced using a churning process, but it’s the speed and timing that sets them apart. When it comes to creating ice cream, the mixture is frozen in the churns and continually whisked together using paddles. The fast and continuous stirring motion lovingly whips in air to keep the ice crystals small, creating the smooth, creamy mixture that is loved and enjoyed by consumers. “Ice crystals are ice creams worst enemy as they create a gritty texture and make for a poor-quality scoop. We spend a lot of time ensuring our ice creams are whipped to perfection and blast frozen quickly to keep any ice at bay” Alan commented.
During this process the ice cream mixture typically increases in volume between 25% to 90%. For gelato, the steps are similar, but less air is churned throughout the freezing process. On average, gelato has 50% less air circulated throughout due to a slower churn rate, which helps create an intense flavour and smoother, silkier texture.
While it is common for smaller boutiques to create their ice cream and gelato offering with batch machines, larger manufacturers follow tighter production processes to ensure a consistent scoop in each tub. “We’ve spent 60 years perfecting the way we make our products. For us it’s all made in the same equipment, just with a different technique, which we’ve refined over time.” Alan said.
“What you find is that a lot of the little boutique gelatos are made in small batch machines where the mix is tipped in and then churned. They then need to be eaten pretty quickly, or the quality degrades over time” he said. “But on a larger scale, most places use a continuous churn which allows the product to be packaged, transported frozen and last longer.”
HOW TO KEEP YOUR DESSERTS IN MINT-CHIP CONDITION
There is nothing worse than heading to the freezer to grab a tub of ice cream only to find the mixture has suffered freezer burn. Name a more heart-breaking experience – we bet you can’t. So, to eliminate the tears and broken hearts of customers who have been craving their favourite flavour all day, you’ll need to store your tubs correctly from the moment they arrive at your venue.
“All ice cream is stored at -18 degrees, but when you put it into a serving freezer they need to be slightly warmer at around -16 degrees,” The Everest R&D manager explained the increase in temperature from freezer to front-of-shop allows the ice cream to become “a little bit softer”. This technique allows workers to scoop cleaner portions for customers.
So, while the ingredients and production methods between gelato and ice cream differ ever so slightly, both frozen desserts serve and conquer their sole purpose – to deliver mouth-watering, memorable experiences upon every inhaled spoonful. And if you’re looking for a refreshing or palate cleansing option for your customers, look no further than the trusted sorbet. At the end of the day, customers just love ice cream, gelato or sorbet – any frozen treat really, so give them options across all three formats to keep them coming back for more!
What's the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?
After "what's your favorite ice cream?", the question I get asked the most as an ice cream maker is "what makes gelato different from ice cream?" How does gelato get that soft, elastic texture and slow-to-melt milkiness compared to ice cream's richer, creamier body?
It comes down to three factors: fat, air, and serving temperature. The more complicated answer? Things aren't always clear cut: this is food, not phylogeny, so individual recipes can blur the lines between the two. But there are some basic differences to keep in mind.
How Ice Cream Works
All ice cream is mostly water, and as water freezes, it forms hard, crunchy ice crystals. Besides great flavor, the ultimate goal of ice cream making is to keep those crystals as small as possible through added ingredients and technique. Here's how ice cream makers fight crystallization:
- Emulsifying fat into a base (or using already emulsified ingredients, like cream and milk) sticks fat molecules in between water molecules, literally getting in the way of ice as it freezes.
- Sugar also forms a physical barrier to crystallization, just like fat. When dissolved in water, it forms a syrup with a lower freezing point than plain water, and the sweeter a syrup is (i.e. the higher the concentration of sugar), the lower the freezing point becomes. As water starts to freeze in a syrup, the unfrozen water becomes, in effect, a more concentrated syrup. This process continues until you have a bunch of small ice crystals in a sea of syrup so concentrated that it'll never really freeze.
- Air is incorporated into ice cream during the churning process. Just like a light, fluffy angel food cake is easier to cut into than a dense fruit cake, a more aerated ice cream is easier to scoop, and has a fluffier, less dense texture.
- The temperature ice cream is stored at also has an obvious effect: colder ice creams are harder and more solid, while warmer ones are softer, with a looser texture.
There are some other tricks to keep ice cream soft, such as alcohol, starch, protein (in egg and milk), and natural stabilizers like guar gum and carageenan, but the top four above are the big factors at play.
Ice Cream vs. Gelato
Compared to today's American-style ice cream (that's one made with egg yolks, as is basically the new standard in home recipes and commercial products), gelato has less fat in the base and less air churned into it during the freezing process. American ice creams are heavy on the cream, and have a fat content, by American labeling law, of at least 10% (considerably higher in most homemade and many premium versions). Gelato, by comparison, uses more milk than cream, so it doesn't have nearly as much fat. Additionally, it usually—but not always—uses fewer (to the point of none) egg yolks, another source of fat in custard-based ice creams.
American-style ice creams are churned fast and hard to whip in plenty of air (called overrun), which is aided by the high proportion of cream in the base. The most high-end ice creams have an overrun of 25% or so, which means they've increased in volume by 25% cheaper commercial versions can run from 50% to over 90%, which gives them a light, thin, fast-melting texture that isn't very flavorful (those bites are a quarter to a half air!). Gelato is churned at a much slower speed, which introduces less air into the base—think whipping cream by hand instead of with a stand mixer. That's why it tastes more dense than ice cream—it is.
And what about sugar? Well, sugar levels vary wildly in ice cream and gelato recipes, so there's less of a hard difference there.
If you make ice cream at home, you may be wondering about your ice cream machine: does it churn at ice cream speed or gelato speed? The truth is, most of the consumer models on the market churn at about the same speed, none of which are as fast as the commercial machines used to make American-style ice cream. But you can make both ice cream and gelato in your machine—remember, air is only one of the differences between them.
All these differences give gelato a more dense and milky texture that's less creamy than ice cream. It's not thin, but it lacks the plush, buttery fullness of its American cousin. Some say that gelato has a more intense flavor than ice cream, since it has less of the tongue-coating cold fat that gets in the way of tasting things. But I think it's more accurate to say that gelato's flavors come through direct, hard, and fast, then melt away clean. A good, flavorful ice cream can have just as intense a flavor, but you'll taste it differently. One isn't necessarily more flavorful than the other.
Temperature's the Key
So if gelato has less fat than ice cream, and less air pumped into it, why is it not as hard as a brick? How does it get that super-soft, almost elastic texture that looks like a swirl of frosting more than a scoop of ice cream? It's the last big factor: temperature. Ice cream is best served at around 10°F gelato cases are set to a warmer temperature. If you freeze gelato really cold, it'll turn right into the dense, relatively-low-fat brick it has the potential to be. But when warm, it's that perfect soft-but-not-soupy consistency. If you stored ice cream at a much warmer temperature, it'd get too soupy: the high fat in water emulsion would melt too fast.
A Scoop by Any Other Name
I've been following the common naming convention in this post, calling American-style ice cream "ice cream" and Italian-style "gelato." But here's the thing: gelato's just the Italian word for ice cream. Though it does stick to the tendencies I've pointed out above, individual recipes do vary. Some call for cornstarch, others for egg yolks some use higher amounts of sugar and others use less.
But it's all ice cream, just how soft serve is just warmer, freshly churned ice cream, and frozen yogurt is just soft serve made with yogurt as the dairy base. Sure, we can quibble over names and definitions, but at the end of the day, it's all one happy frozen, creamy family. We can argue about differences, or we can sit down and dig in to a pint together? I know which I'd rather do.
Gelato vs. Ice Cream: Are They Different?
While both treats contain milk, cream, and sugar, ice cream usually also contains eggs, whereas gelato doesn’t. If you needed a justification to eat ice cream for breakfast, there it is.
There’s also a difference in their calorie and fat amounts. Not to give away any spoilers, but you can’t technically call something “ice cream” if it doesn’t have at least 10 percent fat. Gelato clocks in a few percents below that.
Ice cream and gelato are kind of like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. They’ve got a similar vibe and aesthetic and frequent the same social circles. But on the inside, gelato and ice cream reportedly have their own personalities.
Ice Cream vs. Gelato
If you’re heading to a scoop shop (or a popular chain like Baskin Robbins) you’ll get hard ice cream. According to David Lebovitz’s best-selling, and recently revised cookbook The Perfect Scoop, there are two main types of classic ice cream: French and Philadelphia-style. French-style ice cream has a yolky custard base, while Philadelphia-style is a mixture of milk or cream, sugar and flavourful ingredients, like fruit, chocolate or vanilla beans—you typically get Philadelphia-style at classic scoop shops. But if you’re wondering what makes vanilla different from French vanilla, it’s the egg yolks!
This Italian-style ice cream uses more milk than cream and rarely contains egg yolks. It’s churned at a slower rate than ice cream, which gives it that dense, almost sticky mouthfeel. It’s chilled and served a few degrees warmer than hard ice cream.
When you can’t choose just one. Photo, Roberto Caruso.
Soft-Serve Ice Cream
Once relegated only to fast-food restaurants and ice cream trucks, soft-serve ice cream has now become a gourmet treat thanks to chains like the Toronto-based Sweet Jesus, Milk Bar and countless upscale eateries. Soft-serve ice cream has much more air whipped into it than hard ice cream (it can be up to 60 percent air!) But despite it’s airiness, it’s the perfect base for sundaes since it doesn’t have mix-ins like hard ice cream.
Sherbet vs. Sorbet
These two words are not interchangeable! Sorbet refers to a dessert made with fruit and sugar, churned like ice cream, while sherbet is made with fruit, sugar, and a little bit of dairy or cream (between 1 to 2 percent milkfat, as per FDA regulations south of the border).
When frozen bananas meet a high-powered blender or food processor, they transform into a rich, velvety soup with a similar texture to soft-serve. But since this icy dairy-free treat is basically a fruit salad, it gets the name “nice cream.” You can easily make it at home, though Toronto’s home to Nanashake, a nice cream parlour.
Brownie ice cream sammies. Photo, Erik Putz.
Fro-yo usually contains less fat than traditional ice cream because it’s made with milk and yogurt instead of cream. The good stuff usually has an irresistible tang (but the stuff pouring out of the machines ubiquitous DIY fro-yo sundae bars hits the spot, too). But even though fro-yo is lower in fat than traditional ice cream, it’s still loaded with sugar.
Dairy-Free Ice Cream
Plant-based diets and veganism are growing in popularity, and so too are dairy-free ice cream options. Find alternatives to the milk-and-cream-laden classic at most major grocery stores made with soy, coconuts, almonds and cashews from big brands like President’s Choice, Ben and Jerry’s and Breyers.
Halo Top Ice Cream
Instead of being sweetened with sugar, Halo Top uses stevia to create pints of ice cream that clock in at around 300 calories each. Breyers Delights and Canadian brand CoolWay (sweetened with a sugar alcohol) also have low-cal, low-sugar pints available in supermarkets across the country.
What Is the Difference Between Sorbet and Granita?
Ice cream may be the ideal summer dessert, but there are enough other fantastic frozen treats out there to fill a whole fleet of ice cream trucks, from gelato to ice pops to homemade Dole Whip. Some of the easiest to make yourself, though, are sorbet and granita, which require no special equipment, happen to be pretty healthy, and are also perfect for showcasing summer fruit. So, wait, how exactly are they different?
It’s all in the texture, really. Sorbet is fairly smooth and soft, whereas granita (or, if you’re French, granité) is fluffy and crunchy, more like shaved ice.
In order to get those different textures, there are subtle variations in ingredients and technique, but they still have enough in common to be more like fraternal twins than mere cousins. They’re both dairy-free and low in fat, and even when flavored with heavier ingredients like chocolate, they’re still far lighter than ice cream. Either one can go savory (although savory granita is more common than savory sorbet), but are most often served as sweet desserts. While flavors like coffee and chocolate are common to sorbet and granita alike, they’re both particularly good at highlighting the vibrant taste and color of ripe, juicy fruit like berries, peaches, and melons.
While you can use an ice cream maker to craft extra-smooth sorbet, you don’t technically need one, and granita only requires a shallow pan and a fork.
The manual technique for making both is similar—except, for a no-churn sorbet, you smush and stir it fairly often while it’s freezing, in order to encourage a smoother texture. With granita, you scrape the ice crystals up with a fork during the freezing process, coaxing out a coarser yet lighter texture compared to sorbet’s denser, plusher form.
Sorbet usually has more sugar and less liquid, which also helps it achieve that softer texture. Churned in an ice cream machine, the softness will be even more pronounced and creamy, whereas with the manually stirred method, you might end up with something more akin to a sorbet-granita hybrid.
But any way you go, you’ll get a refreshing, sweet-tart treat to perk you up instead of weighing you down—so feel free to go in for another scoop. Here are some simple recipes for each icy, light dessert with a focus on the fruity flavors they both express so well.
This one’s for fans of slushy cocktails who want something they can scoop. The rum adds an extra tropical note to the pinapple, with lime juice and sugar playing along. For something icier, try our pineapple granité (which is nonalcoholic). Get our Pineapple Rum Sorbet recipe.
Strawberry and basil always get along, and infusing the fresh herb into simple syrup is an especially elegant way to combine it with the berries in this fruity treat. Get the recipe.
Raspberries, whether fresh or frozen, give this sorbet an incredible color, and a tart-sweet flavor augmented by sugar and lemon juice. If you want to put in a little extra work, you can make chocolate-dipped sorbet bars, but it’s just as tasty on its own. (That said, a dash of Kirsch doesn’t hurt either.) Get our Raspberry Sorbet recipe.
Watermelon makes a refreshing granita, with a surprising hint of heat, though you can omit the cayenne if you prefer. Either way, the icy crunch contrasts beautifully with softly whipped cream. Get the recipe.
Plenty of wine-accented sorbets and granitas exist, but in this case, we’re not talking rosé, but fragrant rose water, which boosts the floral sweetness of white peaches. Get the recipe.
While most recipes call for granulated sugar in some form, this super-simple 2 ingredient dessert just blends ripe bananas with ripe cantaloupe for a naturally delicious treat. The hardest part is waiting for your fruit to freeze before blending it. Get the recipe.
Blueberries turn into a beautiful granita that kids will love as much as adults, and if you want to get a bit more adventurous, you can try it with lemon thyme too. Get the recipe.
Kiwi, sugar, and lime juice—that’s all you need for this sweet-tart chartreuse sorbet. Just be careful not to blend too long or you’ll break down the seeds that add such textural and visual interest (although if you don’t like mixing textures, by all means, strain them out of the puree before freezing). Get the recipe.
Mangoes are already one of the most naturally lush fruits around, so it’s no surprise they make such a satiny sorbet. There’s no added sugar, so make sure your mangoes are really ripe. Get the recipe.
Think of this as an icier version of slushy sangria. While single-fruit sorbets and granitas are great for showing off a particular variety’s color and flavor, mixing two complementary types is a nice progression. If the warm and tangy black pepper sour cream sounds a bit too odd, consider replacing it with a vanilla bean whipped cream instead. Get the recipe.
This lovely plum sorbet intensifies the fruit’s flavor by roasting it first, and then brings in a touch of vanilla and a little cinnamon, for something that recalls Christmas sugarplums yet is perfect for summertime. Get the recipe.
Related Video: Why Were Frozen Desserts Only for the Super Rich?
Header image by Chowhound, using photos from Chowhound and Kitchen Konfidence.
What are the health benefits?
Reader's Digest reports that from a calorie standpoint, sorbet and sherbet are interchangeable, and sometimes contain even more calories than ice cream. Sorbet is typically entirely vegan, however, so it is definitely a great dessert option for those with any aversion to animal products such as dairy and eggs. Daily Sabah lists a myriad of sherbet health benefits, ranging from weight loss and lower cholesterol to skin smoothing, regulating blood pressure, and promoting thyroid health. Of course, sherbet and sorbet will also boast the vitamins and nutrients that are inherent in the fruits, spices, herbs, or flavorings used to make them. Some sorbets or sherbets may also be served with toppings or mix-ins, which can also improve to improve the health benefits already present in the refreshing confection.
No matter if you're indulging in sorbet or sherbet, you're bound to enjoy. And the next time a friend ponders the distinction between the two, you'll be able to answer with certainty.