How are Gelato and Ice Cream Makers Different?

Some people use the term gelato and ice cream interchangeably when talking about what kind of ice cream machine to buy. And rightly so, as gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. However, when referring to the machines which make each type of ice cream, they are not the same.  You can read my review of the Cuisinart ice cream and gelato maker which is pretty close to being able to make both ice cream and gelato.

Italian gelato and Italian ice cream are the same. Italian gelato and American ice cream is not. This is because gelato is made using a different process than regular American ice cream. Gelato has a richer, creamier and denser texture, while the American version is lighter, airier, and more likely to have ice crystals.

There are a two main reasons for the differences – ingredients and the method of mixing.

Gelato Ingredients:

First, in general, gelato does not use eggs, while ice cream does. However, there are valid gelato recipes which indeed do use eggs. And some recipes require there to be a process where you have to prepare the egg mixture before adding it to the machine. By omitting the eggs, you can shorten the whole process.

Some people will use ice cream recipes in a gelato maker. What they end up with is ice cream with a gelato texture. Will it be the same as a gelato recipe in a machine designed for gelato? Probably not, but probably close enough for many people to be perfectly fine with the results.

Another difference is the milk which is used. The Italians use whole milk, while the American counterpart uses actual cream. Anyone who does baking, understands these can definitely affect the texture – as well as the fat content and number of calories. For this very reason, gelato makes a great alternative for those who are watching their weight, yet still have a big sweet tooth.

As with many Italian recipes, there are various types of recipes depending on the region. I’ve even heard that some recipes can be made with water instead of the standard whole milk for the liquid.

Method of Mixing:

One of the biggest differences between the two types of ice cream is the process in which each is made. Regular American ice cream can consist up to 50% air. The air is purposefully blended in during the blending process. This creates a lighter texture and as a result allow more quantity to be produced.

How do they allow for air to come into the mix? By not trying to keep it out. Some ice cream machines do have lids, while other do not. But remember, lids still let air in.

On the other hand, gelato is made with very little air, thus the denser and richer consistency and flavor. Naturally, anytime a person blends or whips ingredients together, air becomes a natural part of that process. Just think of whipping an egg with a mixer on high speed – the egg puffs up and create a nice foam. Why? Because of the air and I’m sure a number of other scientific reasons which I can’t explain.

How then, does a person make Italian ice cream without letting air get inside while blending. The answer is in the design of the gelato maker and how tight the “air tight” lid is. 

You want to prevent any air from entering while mixing. This is one of the reasons why this Delonghi model was considered one of the higher end machines for making gelato in the home, but it is now discontinued. I’ve seen other lower end models with lids as well, but no mention of this specific design. 

Ice Cream Storage:

You can store your gelato in the freezer just like ice cream. Simply remove the ice cream from the mixing bowl and place in air tight containers and do not forget to label them. You can also buy special pint size plastic ice cream containers to house your special desserts.

These can make excellent gifts for friends and family, and many people will make special batches for upcoming parties and picnics or just fun get-togethers.

There are advantages to making your own ice cream – whether the Italian version or not, and that is the ability to control the flavor and the quality of the ingredients. For example, you can add in dried fruits or candies, or nuts like pistachio. Apparently pistachio gelato is one of the favorites in Italy.

Although your machine will most likely come with a small recipe book, it is a good idea to buy one or two ice cream or gelato recipe books. They will give you lots of great ideas and tips and tricks.

For more information on the Cusinart ICE-100 model mentioned in this article, read my Gelato Maker Review here.

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