What Is Gelato?

Featured Article, Recipe Testers, Social
on July 20, 2011

The Italian cousin to ice cream, gelato (jeh-LAH-toh) traditionally has less air whipped into it than its American counterpart, giving it a denser texture.

The Chinese are known to have mixed snow and milk thousands of years ago, but what we’d recognize as ice cream likely originated in Italy. Legend pegs its birthplace to Sicily, a provenance confirmed mostly by Sicilians.

For two and a half millennia before refrigeration, Sicilians cooled their drinks with snow harvested from Mt. Etna, the volcano that dominates the island’s eastern coast. When Arabs conquered the island, they brought the knowledge that adding salt to ice lowers its temperature—and temperatures below freezing are just what’s needed to freeze sweetened cream. By the late 1600s, Sicilian gelato makers were revered throughout Italy, and gelato consumption in Sicily seemed to be a universal pastime—a foreigner remarked that even the poorest Sicilians managed to scrounge up a coin for gelato.

In Sicily, gelato is made from milk thickened with corn or rice starch. Elsewhere in Italy, it’s enriched with egg or cream. Philadelphia-style ice cream (the commercial standard in the United States) is made from cream, milk and sugar, with a fat content of 8 to 10 percent.

French (glace) or custard-style ice cream has an egg custard base. Ice milk and reduced-fat ice creams are products with less fat than standard commercial ice cream. Soft-serve is a reduced-fat product dispensed at a relatively high temperature.

— By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary