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What's That?  |  Gelato

In honor of National Ice Cream Day on the 3rd Sunday of July - this year, July 16 - we celebrate an entry into the “What’s That” chronicles with an exploration of ice cream’s elegant, more-decadent Italian cousin, gelato (or “frozen” in Italian).

Ice Cream or Gelato?

There are really two big differences between ice cream and gelato. The first, gelato tends to be more dense and milky compared to ice cream. This is due to the the fat content and air incorporated into the mixture. Ice cream contains 15-20% butterfat, whereas gelato contains 4% since gelato uses more milk than cream. In addition, ice cream is churned at a faster rate which whips more air into it (the volume of ice cream can increase by 25-50%). Gelato has a thicker consistency because there is less air inside it.

The second big difference: the flavor of gelato is perceived to be more intense. The likely reason for this is that gelato is served ~15 degrees fahrenheit warmer than ice cream in order to maintain its smooth and soft texture. As a result, the taste buds are less numb and better-equipped to taste the flavors.

Who Invented Gelato?

The exact origin of gelato, and ice cream in general, is more myth than fact. Some trace its beginnings to Ancient Rome, Sicily, Persia or Egypt. After all, we do know that word for sorbet comes either from the the Arabic scherbet or “sweet snow,” or the Turkish chorbet, “to sip.”

It is believed that as early as 3000 BC, people brought snow down from mountain tops (storing it in underground cellars), to then drizzle grape-juice concentrate or honey over it for a summer-time treat.

The first real trace of gelato comes traces back to an 16th century Florentine chef, Bernardo Buontalenti, who captivated Caterina Dei Medici and her guest, the King of Spain, with a creamy frozen dessert.

From there, gelato spread through northern Europe in the 17th century, and the US in the 18th century.

How to Tell the Good Gelato from the Bad?

Life is too short to waste good calories on bad gelato. Here’s how to tell if you find yourself in a quality gelateria or not:

Good Frutti di Bosco with deep, vibrant reds

Good Frutti di Bosco with deep, vibrant reds

  • Look for intense colors - if the fruit flavors are dark or vibrant in color, that is a sign they are made with real fruit rather than food coloring. Even if you aren’t into fruit flavors, intensely colored fruit gelato bodes well for other flavors. The dead giveaway is the Frutti di Bosco (fruit of the forest - often berry focused) - if this isn’t a deep red or purple, steer clear. The opposite is true for banana - if the color is yellow, that’s artificial flavor; if it is a cream color, that’s au natural. You can assume that if artificial coloring is used in gelato, there are other unwanted ingredients thrown in as well.
Tall puffy mounds? Bad gelato!

Tall puffy mounds? Bad gelato!

  • Say no to piles - gelato naturally tends to settle downward due to its softer consistency,  so if there are tall piles or mounds of gelato in their cooling tins, it is a sign that there is either excessive whipping, overly cold temperatures freezing the gelato (and muting the flavors), or artificial chemicals.
Good lemon gelato with translucent edges

Good lemon gelato with translucent edges

  • Look for translucent edges in the lemon gelato - lemon is usually available year round, so this makes for an effective gelateria measuring stick. If the edges of the lemon gelato are somewhat translucent, you’ve got a winner. A non-translucent edge means the gelato is made from milk and lemon extract, and is lower quality. A translucent edge means there is more water and fruit extract, which requires higher quality lemon juice and more effort to make it stay firm.
  • Sample the Fior di Panna - a taste of the “flower of cream” will help you know if the gelateria cares about the quality of their dairy. A true aficionado will sample this flavor before making their gelato decision. If it tastes fresh and flavorful, you have a winner. A substitute is Fior di Latte (“flower of milk”), but cream is more expensive than milk, so this is the creme de la creme, so to speak.

Looking for Gelato?

One of our favorite gelaterias is the Parisian company Amorino. Check them out in New York while on a walking tour of the Upper West Side: The Perfect Day for Kids of All Ages: Upper West Side Edition. The Sidewalk is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, whether you are 5 or 50.

No Gelato, No Problem

If there is no gelateria nearby, have no fear. On July 16, you can count on the ubiquitous McDonald’s for a cold dessert. For the first time ever, this year the fast food staple will give away free vanilla soft-serve cones to all customers, no purchase required. McDonald’s is celebrating the fact that it’s ice cream now contains no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

Corey Wood, Product Lead - Growth & Lifecycle

Corey Wood, Product Lead - Growth & Lifecycle

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What’s That? is a series that celebrates experiencing the different and familiar, whether it is an object, food, custom, artistic style or type of architecture. In each edition, we introduce an item and explain how to appreciate it and why it’s important. Why? Because, being cultured is cool. Ideas or requests? Let us know on our Facebook Page or in the comments section below.