What is Gelato?

As we build out the Rollin’ Gelato operations (in Michigan and Texas), and offer our flavors of gelato to the marketplace, we regularly have people asking us, “what is gelato?” Gelato, which means “frozen” in Italian.

The simplest way to explain what gelato is, is to say that “gelato is the Italians’ version of American ice cream” or that “gelato is Italian ice cream”.  However, that does not do gelato justice in terms of what gelato actually is.

To help explain what gelato is, we use what most people in America are familiar with, which is ice cream.  Thus, below, we have highlighted a short list of similarities and differences between gelato and ice cream.

Scrumptious [ similarity ] — both ice cream and gelato are wonderful to eat.  Yum yum.

Cold deserts [ similarity ] — both ice cream and gelato are cold, which make them good to eat on hot days.

Churn speed [ difference ] — gelato is churned slower than ice cream.  Ice cream makers want to have more air in their product (“overrun”, where as gelato makers want to have less air in the product.  Churning slower allows for less air to be in the gelato product.

Less cream [ difference ] — gelato has less cream than ice cream.  butterfat is the cream.  gelato tends to have 4-8% butterfat (must contain at least 3.5% milk fat in Italy), and ice cream tends to contain 15% butterfat (ice cream legally has to have at least 10% milk fat to be called ice cream in the USA).  Heavy cream typically overtakes other natural flavors, whereas whole milk provides a vessel to carry forward the natural taste  of all ingredients.

Density [ difference ] — gelato is denser than ice cream. This is because gelato is churned at a slower speed, thus has less air (25-30% less) incorporated in the product. Being a denser product, one can eat less gelato and be satisfied as compared to the amount of ice cream it takes for one to be satisfied.  Our equipment of choice to slowly churn the custard — the liquid mixture that turns into a cold form — is a Carpigianni blast freezer machine.

Serving temperature [ difference ] — ice cream is served as cold as -5°F.  Good gelato is served between 12°F and 16°F.  It feels warmer and silkier (creamier) on your tongue.  By being served at a warmer temperature, the flavor of the gelato comes through and lingers versus having the heavy cream lasting as the end taste in your mouth.

Texture [ difference ] — As a result of using less cream and being denser due to slower churning, gelato is silkier (some say “creamier”) than ice cream.

Real flavor richness [ difference ] — Artisan-made gelato highlights the true flavor of its main ingredient(s).  The amount of real fruit, nuts, spices, chocolate, liquors (to name few) used in gelato can be maximized for the right reasons — to create a well balanced flavorful gelato, not to hide the heavy cream taste.

Ice cream makers often add a larger quantity of heavy cream in their mix.  Heavy cream typically overtakes other natural flavors, whereas whole milk provides a vessel to carry forward the natural taste of all ingredients.  Thus, ice cream makers often use enhancers of artificial flavors to push forward their flavors and to make the product taste more robust, and ultimately to help coat the heavy cream.

Also, since gelato is served warmer, the flavors stands out more.  For example, fruit in ice cream that is served at 0°F is less flavorful than fruit served at 16°F.

Real ingredients [ difference ] — Since artisan gelato makers don’t have to try to hide the cream taste like  ice cream makers have to do, artisan gelato makers tend to use real ingredients

Less fattening [ difference ] — since there is less heavy cream in gelato than ice cream, gelato is less fattening.  Gelato tends to be 30-40% less fattening than ice cream.

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2 scoops of gelato = 1 scoop of ice cream in terms of calories and fat

1 scoop of gelato = 2 scoops of ice cream in terms of fulfillment (being filled)


Now that you know what gelato is, as compared to ice cream, what makes our gelato different than any other gelato?

Small batches — we are small, and thus all of our batches are small.  We like being small, and enjoy the culture that a small company brings to our team and each market we operate in.  Even as we grow, and enter multiple markets, we work to keep the small feel by setting up small pods in those local markets.  Each location has its own character, its own growing environment, and ultimately its own type of food they produce locally. Thus, outside the 3 staple / year-round flavors (chocolate, lemon, and pistachio), we develop local flavors that are specific to each market.

Local ingredients — we don’t just use local ingredients, we partner with .  We work to highlight their product, as we are all in this food chain together.

Local stores — any stores that we sell our product into, they tend to be local retail stores and restaurants.

Less sugar — we tend to use less sugar in our recipes than other gelato organizations

Don’t mind you disliking some of our flavors — love to be challenged with exotic flavors.  We don’t mind you disliking some of our flavors; however, our goal is to get you to LOVE at least one of our flavors.  If we haven’t done that, then we haven’t accomplished our goal.

To accomplish this difference, we follow our flavor development scorecard process.