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What is Gelato?

Description, ingredients, and how to store at home.




Photo by Ewan Roberts [flickr]

Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert that is often compared to ice cream. Both are dairy based desserts sweetened with sugar and flavored with ingredients like fruit or nuts. Unlike ice cream, gelato has a unique texture and is steeped in Italian history.

Gelato's Composition

Gelato is generally made with milk instead of cream and therefore more closely resembles iced milk. Gelato contains approximately 4-8% milk fat, which is far lower than ice cream's approximately 15% milk fat. Because it is lower in fat, gelato often has a higher sugar content to help prevent large ice crystals from forming. Large ice crystals produce a rough, hard texture instead of the soft, creamy texture desired.

The freezing process for gelato also differs slightly than that of ice cream. Less air is allowed to incorporate into the mixture as it chills, which creates a thick, dense, and creamy end product. Gelato is often held at slightly higher temperatures than ice cream to provent it from hardening into an unscoopable state.

Some gelatos contain egg yolk as a stabilizing agent, although many gelatos today use less expensive alternatives, such as gluten or guar gum.

Popular Gelato Flavors

Unlike ice cream which usually has whole nuts or nut chunks stirred in, gelato most often uses nut butters to create a smooth, rich flavor. Pistachio, almond, and hazelnut are popular flavors for gelato. Fruit flavors are popular, as are more unconventional flavors such as espresso, rum, and scotch.

Gelato can also be used as an ingredient in a variety of desserts. Gelato balls are created by rolling small amounts of gelato in toppings like crushed nuts. Gelato cakes are popular as is the famous Italian dessert, spumoni, which layers gelato with whipped cream, nuts, and fruit.

How to Store Gelato

Gelato can often be purchased by the pint or quart from gelato or ice cream shops. To preserve your gelato once you get home, it is best to press a layer of plastic wrap down onto the surface of the gelato before replacing the lid. This creates a barrier between the gelato and freezer air, which can prevent freezer burn and rogue flavors from absorbing into the gelato.

Store gelato in the main compartment of your freezer to provent exposure to warmer air when the freezer door is opened. When properly stored, gelato can be enjoyed for up to a month after purchase.

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