In A Nutshell
While equally delicious, the higher fat content and added air of ice cream is what separates it from its frozen friend, gelato.
The Whole Bushel
Gelato and ice cream seem one and the same to the untrained eye. Both frozen, creamy treats enjoyed by many with a variety of flavors, it’s hard to know what truly separates them aside from the slight tweak in texture. But there’s obviously something going on here—it’s all in how they are created.
In the USA, ice cream is regulated by the FDA, which dictates that it must contain at least 10 percent milk fat with most containing anywhere from 14 percent to 17 percent. On the other scoop, gelato has a fat content of around 3 percent to 10 percent, as it has no such regulations.
There’s also a special surprise in your ice cream tub you might not have known you had—a nice big spoonful of air, in some cases up to half the carton, just like the delicious kind you find in bags of potato chips. You see, during the production of ice cream, air is pumped in while the cream is whipped, greatly increasing the volume of the treat and simultaneously making it easier to scoop and quicker to melt.
Gelato however contains minimal air, only the amount that would be necessary for structure and scoopability, which makes its texture so creamy (despite the fact it contains much less actual cream than ice cream).