Food & Drink

What is gelato made of?

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Wondering what gelato is made of? It's the Italian cousin of ice cream!

What is gelato? If you are Italian, odds are you already know. Many do not know the term, at all, and certainly do not know what gelato is made of.

Gelato is the Italian variety of ice cream. It varies from American ice cream in a few rudimentary ways.

American ice cream is not nearly as dense as the Italian version. Gelato consists of half as much butter fat as does ice cream. This makes the Italian variety thicker. Additionally, because it is churned leisurely, there is far less air beaten into it which makes it a thicker product than ice cream. Because of its thickness, the taste is more concentrated than ice cream.

This product consists of egg yolks, sugar, cream, frozen milk, water, air, food additives (stabilizers and emulsifiers), flavoring, fruit and MSNF.

MSNF means milk-solids-nonfat and consists of carbohydrate (lactose) protein and ash (minerals) in a dairy product. The benefits of MSNF can be derived from cream, milk or skim milk powder. MSNF increases the amount of protein in the dish and makes the texture superior. However, if you use too much MSNF this makes the product icy. Too little and the texture is gritty

This product requires storage at zero to 10 degrees Fahrenheit whereas ice cream must be placed in -20 degree Fahrenheit or colder storage. When you eat the Italian product it is warmer than a serving of ice cream.

If the product were stored the same way ice cream is, it would be hard to eat it because of its thickness and fat content.
If intent on making this confection, purchase whole milk (3.5%) although some prefer reduced fat or fat-free milk. The purpose of milk is making the final product smooth-textured and creamy. It also lessens the speed of melting therefore if eating it on a very hot day it isn't going to melt as rapidly because of the milk content.

What else is needed in gelato?

Sugar is required for sweetness but also because it amplifies thickness and lowers the freezing point. When sugar and water are both added the result is a soft but not liquefied texture.
Use either fructose, dextrose, lactose or invert sugars (e.g., honey and corn syprup or natural sugar) which all provide a different degree of sweetness.
Food additives enhance the look and taste of this product and maintain flavor. A stabilizer serves as a solidifying agent and creates a denser texture.
Emulsifiers keep oil and water mixed together so the final product is uniform from the first scoop to the last.

Air is imperative in the creation of this product. The liquid mixture is whipped with air as the product is frozen, which amps up the volume of the product and makes the consistency smoother.

Another option

Some prefer a sorbetto, which is a fruit-flavor of gelato. Water is used instead of milk in this product. Filtered water is preferable. If the water tastes bad, so will your product. Water gives the sorbetto its frozen characteristic because water freezes and scatters and hydrates the other ingredients.

You can add fruit, either fruit puree, frozen fruit, fresh fruit or fruit juice. The acidity of the fruit helps distinguish the flavor of this product and the sugar sweetens the mixture.


The term 'over-run' is the phrase used when talking about the amount of air thrashed into the product. Milk-based gelato is thicker than water-based sorbetto so it naturally has more 'over-run.'

Those who prefer the Italian version of ice cream claim it tastes self-indulgent. It is deeply flavored but doesn't have as much fat as ice cream. That's a good thing.

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