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What's the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

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We're reaching peak cold-treat season (even though ice cream is delicious all-year round), so we wouldn't blame you if you've stared at the overflowing freezer section at your grocery store and wondered, "What's the difference between ice cream and gelato?"

Even though we'd willingly eat any dessert placed in front of us — whether you call it ice cream or gelato — there is a real difference between the two sweet desserts. So what's the secret? It's all about the recipe.

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Ice cream recipe vs. gelato recipe

Ice cream is made by combining milk, sugar, eggs yolks, and cream and churning it at a high speed. This process adds air to the mixture, giving it it's creamy, airy texture.

"American ice cream can be up to 50 percent air," said Morgan Morano, the author of The Art of Making Gelato. "Air makes it soft and fluffy."

Because ice cream has more milk than cream, it therefore has more butterfat, a fat which occurs in milk and dairy products. That butterfat prevents the water from freezing and clumping together to form giant ice crystals. Ice crystals cause a crunch texture, so the butterfat ensures that your ice cream is airy.

Gelato is also made from the milk, sugar, and cream, but it doesn't often contain egg yolks. When compared to ice cream, gelato has more milk than cream and it's churned at a much slower rate. That last part is key to making gelato gelato, because it means that less air is mixed into the dessert. Because gelato has less cream, and hence less butterfat, than ice cream, it's lighter and needs less air to freeze; less air means it's denser and creamier.

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Ice cream taste vs. gelato taste

The coldness of ice cream can numb your tongue, which explains why that last lick of your ice cream cone isn't as sweet as the first one. Because ice cream has more butterfat, which coats your tongue, you may not be tasting the full extent of your dessert's flavor.

“Consequently, gelato provides a greater flavor experience because there is less fat that coats the taste buds, more flavor per spoonful — due to lower quantity of air — and the taste buds are more alive since the temperature is not so cold as to dull their sensitivity,” said Luciano Ferrari, senior instructor and technical director at the Carpigiano Gelato University in Bologna, Italy.

Which is healthier — ice cream or gelato?

According to SF Gate: "On average, a 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla gelato contains 90 calories, 3 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar. A typical 3.5-ounce serving of vanilla ice cream contains 125 calories, 7 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar."

We'll let you decide which one you go with.

Interesting, huh? So now that it's all said and done, which do you prefer — ice cream or gelato?

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