It’s not just fancy ice cream.

Forget what you think you know about gelato, because the Italian dessert is much more than fancy-sounding ice cream.

What Is Gelato?

Gelato is a frozen Italian dessert. Traditional flavors include chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, pistachio, and stracciatella, though fruity flavors have become popular in recent years.

Gelato is made with milk, cream, sugar, and sometimes egg yolks for stabilization. The mixture is churned much more slowly than American ice cream, which results in an incredibly smooth and dense dessert.

There are a few ways gelato can be prepared:

  • The Hot Process: Ingredients are heated to 185 degrees for pasteurization, then placed in a batch freezer.
  • The Cold Process: Ingredients are mixed and placed into a batch freezer.
  • The Sprint Process: Milk or water is added to a pre-packaged mixture of ingredients which is then mixed and batched.

Gelato vs. Ice Cream

Though they’re both frozen and cream-based, gelato and ice cream are two completely different desserts.

The main difference between the two desserts is the amount of milk used. Gelato uses much more milk than ice cream, which relies on cream for much of the heavy lifting.

Gelato is also churned more slowly, which eliminates much of the air that produces a fluffy result.

The final product is denser, smoother, and more richly flavored than ice cream.

Because it calls for less cream, gelato tends to contain fewer calories than ice cream.

Gelato History

Gelato 2 Getty 10/23/19
Credit: Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images

Stefan Cristian Cioata/Getty Images

Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli is credited with inventing gelato in the 17th century. Procopio introduced the dessert at his café in Paris, but it quickly spread throughout Europe.

His creation was such a hit, Procopio obtained French citizenship and got an exclusive royal license from Louis XIV that made him the sole producer of gelato in France. Talk about a success.

What Is Stracciatella?

Stracciatella Getty 10/23/19
Credit: Creativ Studio Heinemann/Getty Images

Creativ Studio Heinemann/Getty Images

Stracciatella is a popular variety of gelato. It consists of a cream-flavored base filled with chocolate shavings. Created in 1961 at the ‘Ristorante La Marianna’ in northern Italy, the dessert was inspired by stracciatella soup.

Stracciatella gelato is made by drizzling melted chocolate into the base toward the end of the churning process. The chocolate, which immediately solidifies when it hits the cold gelato, is broken up with a spatula create an irregular effect.

Gelato Recipes

Strawberry Gelato with Almond Shortbread and Elderflower Crème
Credit: Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton

Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Mary Claire Britton

Sure, you can buy pre-made gelato in the grocery store (Talenti is an extremely popular brand), but wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to prepare a batch yourself? Try your hand at one of our absolute favorite homemade gelato recipes: