Friday, April 26, 2013

KNOWLEDGE: So What are the Differences Between Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt and Gelato?

Over the extent of this blog, I’ve exchanged emails and had a few conversations about what exactly the differences are between all the types of frozen desserts currently available. While the freezer aisle used to consist strictly of ice cream, the market has recently become saturated with a wide array of intriguing and more health-conscious options. Now that same aisle can be the cause of some serious confusion when it comes to what your next purchase should be. This site was originated to assist in helping the masses get the most for their money, but sometimes flavor won’t be the only deciding factor. Although the enjoyment derived from ice cream, gelato or frozen yogurt usually depends on the preferences of the end user, here’s some more information on what exactly makes each type significant in its own regard.

In the United States, there are a set of guidelines from the Food And Drug Administration that manufacturers must follow in order to officially call their product ice cream. Any product that claims that name must contain at least 10 percent milk fat (also referred to as butter fat) per half-cup serving. Super-premium companies like Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen-Dazs hang around the mid-teens as far as butterfat percentage is concerned, but some of the flavors from the small-batch artisanal brands can accommodate far more. After the company has decided how much fat to incorporate into their ice cream, the next decision has to do with how much air to whip in during the production process.

Ben & Jerry's test kitchen uses a single flavor batch ice cream maker from Taylor that can create a variety of different consistencies.

The overrun as it’s commonly referred to, is the amount of air that is whipped into a given ice cream mixture and as Turkey Hill’s Ice Cream Journal explains, “For example, an overrun of 100 percent would mean for every gallon of ice cream mix, you get two gallons of finished ice cream. Without this air, the frozen ice cream mix would resemble an ice cube, the same as if you were to freeze milk or any other liquid. This would make the ice cream pretty difficult to scoop and very icy to eat, which would also make for a pretty frustrating dessert experience.” This churning stage traps air within the mixture and gives us the texture we normally associate with ice cream. The amount of air inside is vital in the final consistency we associate to each particular brand. When companies whip in high amounts of air, the texture becomes light and fluffy, while low amounts of air produce a heavy, dense finished product. In order to protect the consumer, the FDA has capped the maximum overrun to 100 percent and doesn’t allow any offering referred to as ice cream to weigh less than 4.5 pounds per gallon.

Graeter's uses a secret recipe of fresh cream and egg custard that is gently swirled along the chilled sides of a slowly spinning French Pot Freezer. As the mixture grows thicker, a blade scrapes the side of the pot and folds the ice cream into itself. This gentle process prevents air from whipping into their ice cream and is responsible for the extremely dense consistency associated with their unique product.

Whereas ice cream is made with milk and cream, the majority of gelatos contain no cream whatsoever. Their rich and creamy consistency can be attributed to the fact that they have a miniscule amount of air whipped during the vertical spinning process (as opposed to horizontal spinning of most ice creams). The amount of milk fat in gelato tends to range anywhere from 3-10% and must contain at least 7% of egg yolks by weight. This puts the texture somewhere between that of ice cream and a soft-serve because gelato freezes less solidly; meaning it melts faster in your mouth. The lack of overrun (only about %50) contributes to, what some would consider, a more flavorful finished product. This also means that gelato can’t be kept as long in storage, which usually results in a fresher, higher quality frozen treat (but not always).

When we hear gelato we typically think of the wide array of artisanal flavors garnished with fresh fruit and gourmet toppings, but as of late you can find some worthy substitutes at your local supermarket. Companies like Talenti, and even generic brands like Target and The Fresh Market, are getting in on the action. Although I’m not partial to either, I’ve been impressed with many of the offerings currently available and they should have no problem stealing away some of the market share from the ice cream competition. Recently however, there’s been another frozen product trying to target the more calorie-conscious consumer: frozen yogurt.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a large influx of brick and mortar, self-serve frozen yogurt shops popping up across the United States. These allow the consumer to come in, grab a large cup, load it with various flavors of frozen yogurt, sprinkle on a variety of toppings, and then pay based on the weight of your own creation. Although the likes of Pinkberry and Menchie’s haven’t starting sending their products to the supermarket, companies like TCBY, Yoplait and Ben & Jerry’s have all capitalized on this budding market.

Frozen yogurt, as its name implies, is made from yogurt and some of the ingredients you’d find in ice cream like milk and sweeteners. Along with the lower calorie count, many consumers feel like they’re eating the same live bacteria found in standard yogurt that's associated with a healthier digestive system, but that isn’t always the case. If the yogurt base was put through a heat-cycle during the processing stage, it’s likely the cultures were killed off. The milk fat in frozen yogurt is the lowest of all three of our frozen variations; only comprising 0.5-6% of the ingredients depending on whether the frozen yogurt is non-fat, low-fat or regular. Milk solids are then added for sweetness, increased resistance to melting and the protein provides smoothness. Without the addition of cream, frozen yogurt contains far less calories than the competition and, in cases where Greek yogurt is used, has more protein as well. Unfortunately though, taste and texture are usually sacrificed when compared to a more premium product.

Hopefully this article has helped some of you become a more conscious consumer and will assist with the tough decisions associated with picking a frozen treat from the freezer. Please add to the conversation in the comments section!


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the article! I'll try and write some more stuff like this in the near future...

  2. Good, interesting read. What about 'frozen dairy dessert'? Like from Breyer's.

    1. I'm actually planning to attack "frozen dairy dessert" real soon in its own article. Wretched stuff.

  3. Definitely a helpful and interesting read. This almost makes me want to get into the ice cream business, because I've had some ideas for certain ice cream creations (I'll spoil one now: Ben & Jerry's do another character flavor called "The Dude," essentially making a White Russian ice cream. Like the above user, I'm also curious about frozen dairy desserts, though I'm gonna guess you excluded them since most frozen dessert enthusiasts frown upon them. But regardless of quality, they still share a considerable amount of space in the freezer aisles.

    I guess, depending on who you talk to, they're like the flavorful spirits in a liquor store that, when you look closely, are liqueurs instead of actual liquors (looking at you, Southern Comfort).

    1. I'm glad that you found this article interesting and hopefully I'll make this more of a trend in the future. As far as a White Russian based ice cream, it seems they've already beat you to the idea. One of the flavor gurus at Ben & Jerry's let some of us bloggers in on a little secret: they're re-releasing their White Russian flavor this summer.

      I plan on dedicating an entire article to frozen dairy dessert. Unfortunately the common consumer just likes the lower calories and doesn't really care about the fact that they aren't eating actual ice cream.

  4. Nice review of the various types of frozen desserts!

    Just a couple of nitpick comments... You mentioned that ice cream "must contain at least 10 percent milk fat... per half-cup serving." If I'm reading the FDA regulation correctly though, I believe it could be better stated as "10 percent milkfat by weight". The "by weight" part is important since the volume can be changed by the amount of air added in, as you said. And of course, 10 percent is 10 percent, no matter the serving size.

    You also mentioned that gelato "must contain at least 7% of egg yolks by weight." I'm curious about this one, since I've never heard it before. I don't believe there are any official requirements for gelato in the USA, as there are for ice cream. Most commercial gelato shops use a powdered or liquid base for making their gelato, with no egg yolks at all. Maybe you're thinking of the 1.4% egg yolk requirement for frozen custard?


  5. Who makes French Pot freezer equipment in the world. I can't find one.

    1. Cattabriga (a subsidiary of Carpigiani) makes them:


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