What’s the Difference Between Gelato, Ice Cream and Sorbet?

Gelato: just ice cream with an Italian accent, right? And what about sorbet? The USDA actually sticks to pretty strict guidelines when it comes to the differences between these seemingly similar frozen desserts. Here’s the scoop.

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It means “ice cream” in Italian. But while gelato has a custard base like its American sister, it’s much denser. That’s because it has less milk fat (exactly what it sounds like: fat from milk) and less air churned in during freezing. That means you don’t need to eat two huge scoops to satiate your sweet tooth (OK, maybe you do). Also, fun fact: Gelato is meant to be served slightly warmer than ice cream—it’s supposed to look soft and glossy.

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Ice Cream

The USDA has a couple of hard rules in place for this fan favorite. It must be at least 10 percent milk fat, be churned during freezing and (surprise) taste sweet. Even savory ice cream flavors (think: Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero from Salt & Straw or Olive Oil and Salted Almonds from McConnell's) have to contain some sugar.

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There’s a good reason chefs like to serve a bite of sorbet right before dessert. Thanks to its acidic sweetness, it’s a fantastic palate cleanser. The frozen treat is made with just fruit and sugar (no dairy). Great news, vegan and lactose intolerant friends—this scoop’s for you.

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Food Editor

From 2017 to 2019 Heath Goldman held the role of Food Editor covering food, booze and some recipe development, too. Tough job, eh?