What’s the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

As the temps rise into summer, we’re already starting to think about ways to stay cool this summer. The obvious choice? Ice cream, duh. In 2018, the term “ice cream” feels more like a blanket term that covers any frozen, creamy treat, when really, many of your ice cream-like favorites are produced quite differently! Preference aside (we know a few gelato purists out there), we’re breaking down the distinctions between some of these much-loved cool sweets.

Standard ice cream

It’s no surprise that ice cream has very old origins. It is said that Alexander the Great enjoyed cooling down with snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. Today, though, ice cream is hands down an insanely popular dessert. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, about 1.54 gallons of ice cream and other frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2015 and the average American consumes more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year! It’s typically made in an array of tantalizing flavors throughout the country (and world). As the name would suggest, ice cream is made from milk and cream—federal regulations decree that ice cream must have at least 10% milkfat, though many brands contain more. It’s made with non-fat solids, sweeteners, and flavorings before undergoing various freezing and mixing methods.


Gelato, the Italian answer to ice cream, is just as decadent and sensational but contains less butterfat than ice cream—usually 4 to 9%. Unlike ice cream, which sometimes contains eggs, gelato never does, and it has less air whipped into it. Also, gelato is commonly served warmer than ice cream, so it’s a bit softer. Lastly, instead of an ice cream scoop, gelato is served with a spade! Some traditional Italian flavors include pistachio, stracciatella (milk-based gelato with shavings of chocolate), tiramisu, and hazelnut.

Frozen yogurt

Frozen yogurt is typically made with milk solids (not fat), alongside live yogurt cultures you’d find in the non-frozen variety. Froyo is not regulated by the FDA, so the way it’s made can differ from brand to brand. In flavor, frozen yogurt is often more tart than ice cream and typically comes in a large cup so you can fill it with toppings galore. Who remembers their froyo order in the early 2000s? We certainly do!


Unlike gelato, ice cream, and sherbert, sorbet contains no dairy—just fruit (juice), sugar (syrup), and water. Sorbet is often served as a palate cleanser thanks to its super refreshing quality. Italian granita is similar to sorbet, but the ice is manipulated during the freezing process making for a chunkier, icier consistency. Sorbet can be easily made in an ice cream machine, ensuring a soft, creamy consistency. Perfect for those who have problems with that pesky lactose!


No matter how you pronounce it, there’s no denying the deliciousness of a fruity, creamy scoop of sherbert. The word originates from the Arabic word sharba, which means “to drink,” and this frozen treat has been around for a long time. Originally, it referred to a cold drink with sweetened, diluted juice, but now it refers to a frozen dessert (often fruit-flavored) that has milk or cream added to it. The dairy is what differentiates this dessert from sorbet and, in fact, sherbert is required to have between exactly 1% and 2% butterfat to qualify as, well, sherbert.

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