After we revealed to our friends our dream of opening an artisanal gelateria, we realized that many people are unaware of the difference between ice cream and gelato. Some say that gelato is “just ice cream but in Italian…,” we think this is a sacrilege.
Gelato is indeed a type of Italian ice cream — the one that attracts endless queues outside a typical italian gelateria. Ice cream and gelato do share most of the same ingredients: a water or milk base, fat, sugar, air (its spirit really), and of course, all kinds of flavouring ingredients. They are mixed then churned vigorously while cooling down to below zero temperatures. The artisanal process of the old days was the same, but the cooling down was with ice and it took days, literally. Today the process is much quicker.
Now, many will be tempted to ask: “If they have the same ingredients, wouldn’t ice cream and gelato be exactly the same?
No. What actually differentiates the two is their ingredient proportions, which determines if the ice cream – or gelato – can be preserved for a longer time.
To better understand the differences between industrial ice cream and artisanal gelato, it’s important to first understand the role of each ingredient in the ice cream-making process.
Sugar is used as an anti-freezing agent which ensures the ice cream becomes soft at lower temperatures. Fat preserves the ice cream for longer periods of time while also capturing its flavours. A water or milk base allows all the ingredients to be blended together and finally, air gives volume to the mixture.
Generally, industrial ice cream, transported to the dealer and preserved in an ark for a long period of time, contains a lot more sugar and fat than gelato, to ensure it stays in a good condition (served at -20ºC). On the other hand, artisanal gelato is produced and kept at the ideal temperature of consumption (served at -12ºC), thus not needing large quantities of fat and sugar to stay fresh. Also, the artisanal method of production does not employ any preservatives or chemicals that are usually used in most industrial ice cream productions.
One last thing: in Italian, gelato is singular. The plural form of the word is gelati. Sometimes we say gelati, but usually we just say gelato, for singular or plural, as if it was a ‘collective’ of gelati. At least this way we avoid more confusion and above all the word: gelatos… One lesson at the time.