What Is Gelato?: Everything You Need To Know
People have a love for desserts. Frozen treats are listed among the favorites for many, and gelato is often at the top of that list. For those poor souls who have never tried gelato, they’re missing out on something truly incredible. From vanilla to pistachio and lemon to raspberry, this tasty frozen treat has been satisfying people in Italy for hundreds of years. Although its popularity in America has gained traction in recent years, many people still want to know what gelato is.
This article will help to explain everything you need to know about this wonderful tasty dessert, including:
- What is Gelato?
- What is Gelato Made of?
- How is Gelato Made?
- What is the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?
- Gelato Flavors
- What is Sorbetto?
- Gelato's Origin
What is Gelato?
Is gelato just a fancy way of saying ice cream? At first glance, you may think that gelato is merely ice cream. After tasting it, you’ll find that this Italian dessert favorite is anything but the ice cream you'll find in the United States. Its intense flavor and smooth texture will have your taste buds doing the happy dance.
In Italian, gelato means “frozen” or “icy” and has evolved to refer to the Italian dessert. Gelato translates to “ice cream” in English, with the plural being “gelati.” In simple words, gelato is the Italian version of ice cream as Americans know it. Although there are similarities between the two, there are apparent differences that set them apart.
What is Gelato Made of?
Quality ingredients is the first step to giving gelato its amazing, intense flavor. True gelato is made with all-natural ingredients, unlike the “fake” stuff that uses pre-packaged mixes or artificial flavors and additives.
Authentic gelato has high quality, real ingredients such as whole milk, cane, and natural sugars. To add flavor, a genuine gelato-maker uses only pure, natural ingredients such as real fruit, actual vanilla beans, chocolate, pistachios, etc., rather than artificial flavoring.
How is Gelato Made?
First, there is a pasteurizing of any fresh dairy products. Pasteurization is a process that heats ingredients to eliminate potential microorganisms, making them safe for consumption and storage. Ingredients (dairy, sugar, natural flavors) are then mixed in a batch freezer. Simultaneous freezing and churning of the mixture is performed while incorporating just enough air to achieve the desired smoothness and texture. Once it is chilled to the proper temperature, it is extracted from the batch freezer and into the serving or storage containers of choice.
What is the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?
When you compare gelato vs. ice cream, several characteristics stand out (there is a definite distinction between the two). They vary in the ingredients, flavoring, and production methods, among others. These differences cause gelato and ice cream to take on contrasting tastes, textures, and nutritional values. We’ll highlight the main differences below.
Compared to American ice cream, gelato is:
- More flavorful
- Smoother in texture
- Made with natural ingredients
- Has less air content
- Melts at a higher temperature
- Has less fat and calories
- Uses no eggs (generally)
- Uses whole milk and little or no cream
Several factors cause Gelato to have a more intense flavor than ice cream. Some come from the ingredients used, the way it’s made, and the temperature at which it’s served. Here are some considerations:
- Authentic gelato is typically handmade by an artisan and more likely to have more flavor (i.e., strawberries) ingredients since there is more concern for taste and quality than mere profit.
- Gelato is churned slower than ice cream, introducing less air into the product, making it denser. Since it’s denser, it packs more flavor wallop.
- Since gelato melts at a higher temperature, it can also be served at a higher temperature. Less numbing of the tongue means more taste.
You’ll notice that when gelato is at its perfect temperature, it has a certain stickiness and elasticity to it, and that’s when you’ll get the best flavor.
There is no limit to the flavor possibilities. Whether sweet or savory, gelato can be made with any flavor imagined. Traditional flavors such as pistachio, chocolate, lemon, and strawberry are by far the most popular. Still, there’s always a need for new and unique flavors. In America, combinations such as cookies and cream and mint chocolate chip are also favored.
As a gelato caterer, we’re often called upon to customize alcohol-infused flavors such as mojito, wine, and pina colada for themed events and special occasions.
You can also make most flavors into a dairy-free Sorbetto, except ones that need to use a creamy base.
What is Sorbetto?
Sorbetto, or Sorbet as it is called in America, is simply gelato made with water instead of milk. Many consider it the same thing as Italian ice, but sorbetto has a smoother texture. It is generally flavored with fruit, and therefore fat-free and dairy-free, making it an even healthier choice. Sorbetto can also be flavored with wine, liqueur, or whatever your heart desires. Sorbetto has a grainy texture compared to gelato.
Did You Know? It’s an Italian tradition to serve sorbetto in between meal courses to cleanse the palate.
The origin of gelato can be dated back to 3000 B.C., where eating crushed ice mixed with fruit became a delicacy to the Ancient Egyptians. Later, the Romans would enjoy cups of pure honey with ice from volcanoes, such as Vesuvius and Etna. Over the next 4500 years, fathers passed their recipes to their sons, slowly evolving it to the Italian tradition we love today. Making its way around Europe, gelato began gaining popularity and by the 1920s, gelato shops (or gelaterias), trucks, & carts have been popping up in countries such as the U.S., Germany, Japan, and Argentina.
To sum up, gelato is the all-natural and healthier Italian counterpart to America's ice cream, but with better taste and denser, smoother texture. Sorbetto is the dairy-free version of gelato. Now that you know what makes these treats different, take a little time to find your nearest shop or café that offers authentic Italian gelato and sorbetto, and experience it for yourself!