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Gelato: Healthier Ice Cream Alternative

written by Guest Blogger August 2, 2011

August is typically the hottest month of the year, so this guest post by Liz Krause is very timely! Keep reading for an informative article on the history and joys of Gelato.

In the United States, there is a huge selection of frozen treats available in supermarkets. Having ice cream, sherbet, sorbet and other quiescently frozen desserts to select from can make the choice difficult.

However, turning the packages over to read the fine print may motivate you to look for a more natural choice. Gelato, or Italian ice cream, is a delicious alternative to North American ice cream.

A Brief History

Gelato can be traced back to an ancient dessert made with ice carried from mountain tops to serve to Italian royalty. Gelato, as it is known today, first made its appearance during the reign of Catherine de’ Medici. The first gelato machine was made in 1686 by a Sicilian fisherman and the popularity has only grown since then.


Most gelato can be categorized by their base flavors. Chocolate is very popular, both milk and dark. It is available plain, with pieces of nuts or nut pastes, as well as complementary flavors such as candied orange rind or hot pepper and cinnamon.

Nut based ice creams include almond, hazelnut, pistachio and chestnut. Gelato with cream bases look like vanilla ice cream, but are based on plain egg custard. These flavors include exotic choices such as zabaione, named after the marsala custard with the same name, and fior de latte, a creamy dessert that relies on the freshest of milk for flavor.

The Difference Between Gelato & Ice Cream

Despite looking similar to American ice cream, gelato has several fundamental differences. American ice cream is beaten more slowly at a slightly warmer temperature. As the ingredients are churned, they are given less time to incorporate air into the mix. While American ice cream may have as much as 50% overage, or added air, gelato is sometimes as low as 20%. Less air gives a more dense dessert with concentrated flavor. Rapid freezing is also responsible for smaller ice crystals and a smoother texture.

For these reasons, even though gelato is made with lower fat dairy, it tastes richer than American ice cream.

The fat content in North American ice cream helps to stabilize the flavors. This makes it possible to store ice cream for as much as several months without any deterioration. Gelato’s lower fat content does not protect the flavors, so it needs to be eaten within a few days of being made. While this may seem inconvenient at first, it ensures that any gelato will be extremely fresh.

The freshness of gelato, as well as the high quality ingredients, are only the first of many reasons that gelato is more healthful than traditional North American ice cream.

The dessert is very dense and rich, so a smaller serving will satisfy. Recipes that rely on milk, rather than cream, result in a frozen dessert that is substantially lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than ice cream. Many gelato recipes are also made without eggs, though the cream based custards may have egg yolks to contribute both to the flavor and the color.

Making Gelato at Home

As there are very few gelaterias in the United States, the best way to experience this treat is to make your own with a home gelato maker. Even if a gelato recipe is used in an ice cream machine, the slower processing time will cause the final results to be too high in air and to contain large ice crystals.

Of course, the biggest advantage to using a gelato maker at home is being able to control the ingredients. For cream flavors, such as fior de latte, having access to pastured, fresh milk is an absolute must. Recipes can be customized to meet your dietary needs, sweetening the gelato with organic sweeteners, rather than the high fructose corn syrup found in most commercial ice creams.

Making your own homemade gelato is quicker than making ice cream. The dessert is richer and smoother despite being lower in fat and calories. You won’t regret taking the time to make it from scratch once you taste it.

About the Author:

Liz Krause started SimpleItalianCooking, a website devoted to helping others learn how to cook simple Italian meals, just as she did when she first got married. She writes reviews on cooking appliances and kitchenware frequently used in Italian cooking. Liz hopes to return to Rome someday where she can stop by the same gelato store where she first experienced this Italian ice cream with her Uncle Salvatore.

Thank you for your excellent contribution to Live Lighter, Liz! Have you, Readers, tried Gelato? What did you think of it and do you have a favourite flavour?

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