How to Spot Gelato Fraud!

Individual ice cream cups

In Italy, gelato has its own set of laws. If you want to sell this rich frozen dairy dessert and call it “gelato” by name, it has to meet certain quality standards, contain certain percentages of butterfat, and satisfy the highly discerning tastes of Italian nonnas everywhere.
In the United States, there are no such regulations — at least not yet. And make no mistake, gelato is not just like regular ice cream. American shops might like to claim they’re selling “gelato” because it sounds fancy and exotic, when in fact it might be nothing more than ice cream trying to put on a bad Godfather accent. These shops will try to charge you more and dupe you with those fun little gelato spoons. Don’t be fooled! Here’s how you can tell the difference between regular ice cream and authentic, nonna-approved Italian gelato:

    Gelato has less air than ice cream
    Did you know that more than 50% of that scoop on top of your average American-style ice cream cone is just air? The churning process used to turn milk and cream into a magical, scoopable, fluffy dessert is all about aerating the ingredients to achieve the right texture. Gelato, however, is much more dense than regular ice cream because it’s churned more slowly (again, we’ll thank our dear old nonnas). It only contains about 25 to 30% air, and you can taste the difference at first lick from your gelato spoons: real gelato is thick, almost like cold frosting. In our book, that’s a good thing.
    Gelato has less fat than ice cream
    Calling all dieters: It’s true! Gelato has a lower fat content than typical American-style ice creams. That’s because ice cream is heavy on the, well, cream — and most traditional recipes call for egg yolks to achieve the right consistency, which ups the fat content. Gelato, on the other hand, uses more milk and fewer (sometimes zero) eggs, for a fat content of 3 to 8%. OK, so that maybe doesn’t make it a diet-friendly food, but if you live in one of the 90% of American households that likes to dip into a frozen dessert on a regular basis, it’s something to take into account.
    Gelato doesn’t get as cold as ice cream
    That is, gelato shouldn’t be stored or served at temperatures as cold as American-style ice cream, for precisely the reasons above concerning aeration and fat content. If you see “ice cream” and “gelato” in the same cooler, call your local gelato police right away! The sugars and fats of gelato crystallize at a higher temperature than regular ice cream; any colder, and your gelato spoons would snap right in half as you dip in for a first taste. In any frozen dessert business, temperature control is key, lest we commit the most deadly of all dairy sins: freezer burn. Gelato might only be a little less cold than ice cream, but that’s a good enough excuse to enjoy it in the cooler months, too.

The ability to tell the difference between ice cream and authentic gelato might not be obvious to the casual eater. It requires a discerning palate — so keep practicing! If you suspect gelato fraud or the American stuff just isn’t cutting it, the best practical cure might be hopping the next plane to Italy.