Gelato has been making the rounds over the past few years – showing up on the menus of both casual and classy restaurants and at ice cream booths and carts all over. So what, exactly is this treat? Is gelato just a fancy word for Italian ice cream – or is it really something more? Anyone who has ever tasted gelato can attest to the fact that it is both similar yet different than ice cream – and simply delicious. To get the scoop on gelato and learn a few interesting details about this divine frozen treat, read on.
An Italian Treat
Italian food has a very rich, colorful history spanning thousands of years, incorporating a vast array of regional and imported ingredients. It is a source of pride among cooks who have traditionally developed and prepared these recipes and is considered some of the best and most loved desserts in the world. So it should be no surprise to learn that gelato or traditional Italian ice cream is fairly old, originating from a process initially adapted from the Moors before the 11th Century in Sicily.
The recipe involved the addition of fruit and fruit juice to natural snow from the mountains and was likely the predecessor to granita, which is the coarser Sicilian version of Italian ice and French sorbet. When the locals began adding sugar, milk and various flavors to the recipe – requiring a change in its preparation as well – gelato was born. Gelato became one of the world’s best, cold dairy confections in the 1500’s. To this day, it remains a creamy, rich favorite that is served in restaurants and gelateria (ice cream shops) throughout the world – and is finally gaining popularity in the United States.
Gelato – Different from Ice Cream!
Although it may seem like ice cream and is made with the finest dairy ingredients, gelato gives regular ice cream a run for its money in terms of texture, flavor, and even in terms of healthiness. These differences are created through ingredient choice and the manner in which the product is made.
Rich, creamy gelato is made from sugar, flavorings and mostly milk, although some cream is used. On the other hand, ice cream is made from sugar, flavorings, cream, and eggs. Gelato is also churned much slower than ice cream during the freezing process. These two simple variations create noticeable differences in the product, since faster churning adds air to the mix that completely changes the consistency.
Because of the air, ice cream must be frozen and served at a colder temperature in most restaurants to keep it from turning into a sticky, melted puddle. Gelato is a more dense mixture that does not contain air and is thicker and more elastic than ice cream. It is served at a perfect point of 15 degrees warmer than ice cream and takes longer to be reduced to a sticky, melted puddle. The increased density that results from the slower churning allows for more intense flavor. Best of all, since gelato is made from mostly milk and not cream, its fat content is lowered by almost one-half, making it basically lower in calories.
The debate over gelato or ice cream is a newer one on this side of the ocean, yet one that is quickly picking up steam as more and more restaurants offer gelato. More people are learning that gelato is smoother and richer with a bolder taste than ice cream. Of course, the appeal of a harder, more frozen consistency and texture of ice cream is still popular. In either case, a recipe made with the highest quality ingredients cannot go wrong – but a traditionally made gelato is a dessert that truly must be experienced before it can be judged!