Ice cream or gelato? Is there a difference?

In the UK, we have ice cream. And I know that gelato is the Italian word for ice cream.

Yet I often see that Americans use both words and have never been sure if, perhaps, the use of “gelato” for “ice cream” is a form of linguistic snobbery, or if there’s actually two distinct products beign described. My gut reaction is that it must be the former, as in nearly 40 years visiting America, I can only ever recall being served what I would regard as ice cream.

FWIW, I’m prompted to ask the question after reading an article in today’s Guardian about Bologna’s “gelato university”

There is quite a fundamental difference between the two.

Technically gelato is churned at a much slower rate so there is less air in the mix, it’s usually a milk base rather than cream (and eggs), and rarely is the base made into custard before churning. It also tends to be served slightly warmer because its denser (less air).

But what does that do to the taste. The texture of gelato is often chewy, in fact when its put in a cone/cup they use a scraping technique because its so sticky. It also tends to give a more intense flavour because you don’t get the fatty/luscious texture (which coats your taste buds) you get with ice cream - hence the myriad of flavours that are available in Italy.

I don’t think one is fundamentally better than the other, they are simply different. You can also add sherbets, sorbets, granites and frozen yoghurt into the styles available.

Why is Gelato so fashionable? I think its because its quite easy to make, the commercial Gelation machine is a bit like the soft serve machine - put the ingredients in, switch it on and it produces and can produce small batches. Ice cream is technically more complex with good quality ones needed a custard base. So buy a few machines and display fridges and your in business selling scoops at $3 each…hence the proliferation of shops.


For myself . I like the texture of gelato better . But the flavor of french vanilla in ice cream is good also . I will give the win to the melon gelato I had in Florence Italy .

We have both. Ice cream is much more common, but there are now some great gelato shops as well. Nyc has a few Grom locations as well as a number of other gelato spots. It’s also sold next to ice cream at the grocery store, some get very expensive - the Talenti brand is a good one at a reasonable price.

You are right that Gelato is equivalent to ice cream in Italian. However, people also use these two words to distinguish the difference in the products.

OK, so two different products.

Now, that raises a question for me which probably no-one here can answer. And that’s are the travelling ice cream vans in my metro area, virtually all with Italian family names, selling gelato or simply, soft serve ice cream (like Wall’s Mr Whippy). How would I know?

The Italians arrived in the metro area in the mid 19th century to work in the iron foundries (where my ancestors also worked). Some families started making ice cream (or gelato) and you still see the names of some on the vans - Marco Rea, Granelli, etc.

My guess is they are now selling soft serve (which coincidently is trendy again with some chefs proud of their new kitchen gadgets). The Gelato machines tend to produce batches that are stored for service in metal trays when they have been churned. The soft serve machine mixes the ice cream to order - basically turning fresh air into money.

When they first migrated to the UK they probably sold a Gelato style but over time they moved to more lucrative soft serve.

And don’t forget the Italian ice cream industry in the UK was often a front for criminal activities both Glasgow and Manchester had “Ice Cream Wars” (Bill Forsyth’s film Comfort and Joy is based on Glasgow’s) with fierce mafia style rivalries between different families.

I found this link that maybe of interest.

PhilD’s explanation is spot on. For this reason, I don’t buy “gelato” from the grocery store, because it never has the proper texture - the holding temperature in grocery store freezers is too cold. Letting the container sit at room temperature doesn’t restore that almost chewy texture that perfect gelato has, and I don’t think grocery store brands churn their product to achieve that texture in any case. IMO, Talenti and all of the other “gelati” available in the supermarket are simply ice cream with good marketing.

Probably soft serve. I think the texture of Gelato and Soft serve are quiet different. If it is just simply soft, then it is soft serve. If it is sticky and elastic, then it is probably Gelato. This video may be slightly extreme, but I think it shows how elastic the texture of Gelato can be:

Tony Rea, in the article we both linked to, mentions it.

Bonus points for mentioning “Comfort and Joy”!

It’s only relatively recently that the UK has had “ice cream” – I don’t know what the stuff you could buy there in the '70s and '80s was made out of, but it wasn’t ice cream.

The US Food and Drug Administration has “standards of identity” for certain food products, including ice cream:

Thus, there are reasons why various products that people would generally refer to as “ice cream” are marketed under different names (frozen custard, anyone?). I’m not sure if traditional gelato could even be called ice cream, but even if it could, “gelato” is so much trendier!

Interesting observation.

You’ll have noted the earlier references to our ice cream history. And here’s a Wiki link about the history of Wall’s, which is probably our best known national brand of ice cream -’s_(ice_cream) . Cornwall is probably the best known county for ice cream, where it’s made from milk and clotted cream Almost unsurprisingly, an Italian was as influential in developing the business, as immigrants from there were so influential in my area in the northwest -’s_of_Cornwall

Growing up in Cornwall meant I’ve certainly eaten more than my fair share of Kelly’s, getting it direct from their factory. Their range has certainly expanded since the takeover, and it looks like it’s a national product in all the supermarkets which I don’t suppose was the case before.

Good to see they are still making it in the same place, unlike the takeover of Sharpe’s brewery and the Staffordshire bottled Doom Bar fiasco…

They used to advertise Boddingtons beer as “The Cream of Manchester” but had to stop when new owners closed the brewery, which had its roots back to 1778, in 2004.

That observation surprises me. I agree '70’s commercial products may not have been great but doesn’t home churned ice cream gp back to the stately homes of old england. The Victorians had salt/ice combination machines and ice was kept from the winter in ice houses on the estates.

And isn’t ice cream really a frozen aerated custard. Basically eggs, sugar, and cream - thus meeting the US milk solids standard. What is frozen custard if it isn’t ice cream?

Rode Hall, not too far from me, has an ice house which is a “listed building”.

They also have a cracking farmers market once a month

I’ve also seen various ice cream makers in the kitchens of estates with ice houses.

A quick Google after doubting my memory led me to discover that the National Trust appears to archive a lot of items online, like probably from the 19th century

On this side of the pond, we argue about the difference between ice cream and frozen custard. (Frozen custard requires egg yolks, and is denser and less aerated than ice cream, apparently.)

I’m sure I’ve seen one being used in a recentish TV history programme. It involved a lot of hand churning. No doubt, it will have involved Lucy Worsley dressing up in period costume - I’m a big fan oif Lucy Worsley in or out of period costume.