A great article by M.T. Wroblewski posted on the SFGATE website.
They say that seeing is believing, and if you're standing in a gelato shop, you can clearly see that those rich, colorful folds look much denser than any ice cream you've ever seen. A taste test fortifies your suspicions: gelato is creamy, as you expected. It's also uncommonly thick, and the flavor practically ricochets off your tongue. Given all this, who could blame you for assuming you had better dial back the portion size you might normally order in an ice cream shop? In fact, while your palate doesn't lie, it can be fooled: gelato tends to be lower in fat, sugar and calories than ice cream.
If you're wondering whether you can afford to integrate gelato into your weekly diet, you'll want to find out how gelato compares to ice cream.
“Cousins” – but Different
Part of the treat in experiencing gelato is not only sampling it but also seeing how it's made. Many hometown gelato shop owners know this and make an engaging show of its production. They'll tell you that ice cream and gelato are “cousins”; the essential common ingredients are milk, sugar and cream.
The difference is that gelato is made with more milk and less cream than ice cream. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decreed that products packaged as “ice cream” must contain at least 10 percent butterfat. (Many premium brands exceed this limit, often containing between 14 and 17 percent fat.) Also, unlike ice cream, gelato is usually made without egg yolks.
The lower fat content of gelato helps explain why it usually packs more of a flavor punch; without a fatty coating lining your taste buds, gelato delivers more pure, intense flavor than ice cream. Extra flavor comes through because gelato is often served at a higher temperature, too.
If you're lucky enough to see paddles churning the gelato ingredients, it may help to know that less air is incorporated into the mixture. Whereas ice cream becomes light and fluffy because the paddles move quickly in a circular motion to incorporate at least 50 percent air, gelato paddles move up and down, and slowly, to whip in only about half that amount. This is why gelato tastes heavier and looks denser as you cut through it with a spoon.
By the Numbers
This also means that one scoop of gelato would weigh more than one scoop of ice cream. So while a highly precise nutritional comparison of the two frozen desserts may be elusive, you can still come close by comparing a 3.5-ounce serving, or about 1/2 cup:
Vanilla ice cream contains 7 grams of fat, 14 grams of sugar and 125 calories.Vanilla gelato contains 3 grams of fat, 10 grams of sugar and 90 calories.
Still Screaming for Ice Cream?
It would be disingenuous to suggest that gelato is a healthy choice; it's still relatively high in calories. So sticking to that 3.5-ounce serving sounds like good long-term advice, too.
But what if you're still partial to ice cream? If you've enjoyed it all your life and it's easier to find in the grocery store, it may be a hard habit to break.