The Differences Between Ice Cream, Sorbet, Italian Ice, and Gelato, Explained

The world’s love affair with icy delights is centuries old. The earliest evidence of frozen dessert can be traced back to ancient China, where people consumed ice flavored with various syrups and extracts. During China’s Tang period (which lasted from the early 600s to early 900s A.D.) the original purveyors of pseudo-ice cream heated buffalo, cow, and goat milk and fermented the stuff into a yogurt. Then, they would thicken it with flour, flavor it with wood extract, and chill it before serving.

A few hundred years later, the practice made its way to Italy and morphed into sorbet and gelato. There are many different stories as to how these transformations actually happened, though none have been officially confirmed. Some say Marco Polo played a hand, while others point to Florentine stage designer Bernardo Buontalenti as being the alleged inventor of gelato. Regardless of who was responsible, one thing we can all agree on is that frozen desserts take many forms, and they’re all tasty.

That said, what are the actual differences between ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and Italian ice other than their origins? We’re here to dish up the inside scoop — pun intended — on some of the most popular frozen desserts out there.

What Is Ice Cream?

The main component that defines ice cream is its inclusion of eggs. Traditionally, it contains a custard base of eggs, milk, cream, and sugar that’s frozen and then rapidly churned to infuse air into the mixture. This churning process happens at such a rate that detectable ice crystals are not present in the final product.

In addition to sugar, ice cream manufacturers add hundreds of different flavors and sweeteners, from fruit to cocoa to vanilla. Overall, ice cream has a higher fat content than gelato or sorbet, and it’s usually served at colder temperatures, giving it a thicker texture.

What Is Gelato?

There are exceptions to the rule, but unlike ice cream, gelato almost never contains eggs. It does, however, contain milk, cream, and sugar — just in different proportions. Gelato also has less cream in its base than ice cream, but it includes more milk and sugar.

That said, gelato’s ingredients alone aren’t what make it so dense, rich, and smooth. Its silky texture is due in large part to its slow rate of churning, which incorporates less air into the final product. Gelato is also served at higher temperatures than ice cream, making it both creamier and more nuanced in flavor. You’ll find this treat all over Italy, in flavors from pistachio to coffee to lemon.

What Is Sorbet?

Sorbet, which is essentially a variation on Italian granita, does not contain any dairy products. Its composition is simple: water, sugar, and a flavoring agent (typically fruit purée or fruit juice). Its smooth consistency comes mainly from its churning process, which is near-identical to that of ice cream. Sometimes, producers will even put alcohol into sorbet to give it a smoother texture, due to alcohol’s low freezing point. Compared to its sibling Italian ice, sorbet is much richer and packs roughly twice the calories. That said, both sorbet and Italian ice are low in fat, given that no dairy is in the mix.

What Is Italian Ice?

Despite its name, Italian ice is an American invention, created by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Italian ice contains water, sugar, fruit purées or juices, and sometimes natural or artificial flavoring. The key difference between sorbet and Italian ice is the ice itself: The latter contains larger chunks and is churned at a slightly slower rate than sorbet, giving it a more grainy, slightly crunchy texture. Italian ice is less dense than sorbet, which explains its lower calorie count — there’s simply more ice in it.

Water ice is another form of Italian ice, native to the Philadelphia area. It’s slightly chunkier than standard Italian ice, but it’s more or less the same thing — unless you ask someone from Philly.

The article The Differences Between Ice Cream, Sorbet, Italian Ice, and Gelato, Explained appeared first on VinePair.