The simple times of ice cream are no longer, and you may now stand in the frozen aisle of your local grocery store faced with making an informed decision between ice cream, gelato, sherbet, sorbet, and maybe even a frozen yogurt or two. And that’s not even to mention the vegan frozen desserts.
So, what is the right choice for you? Well let’s first explain the difference between all of these yummy, sugary treats.
Ice cream contains cream, milk, sugar and egg yolk. There is more butterfat in ice cream than in, say, gelato, which is what gives you the satisfying round, firm scoop that sits atop your ice cream cone. The USDA actually requires all things labeled “ice cream” to contain at least 10% fat, although most ice creams contain between 14% and 25% fat. Ice creams also have a lot of air churned into them, which is why ice cream tends to be lighter and fluffier than other frozen dessert varieties.
Like ice cream, gelato is made with cream, milk and sugar—but no egg yolk. Gelato uses a significantly higher proportion of milk to cream. That means there is less butterfat in gelato than in ice cream, which is one reason why gelato has a creamier consistency than ice cream. Another is that gelato is served 10° to 15° warmer and has much less air churned into it than ice cream, creating its pliant consistency. While gelato only contains 4% to 9% fat, it can pack a big calorie and sugar punch because of its density (lack of air) compared to ice cream.
No dairy here! Sorbet keeps it simple with just fruit and sugar. Sorbet is instantly refreshing and super easy to make at home, because it doesn’t have to be churned like ice cream and gelato (although it often is).
Sherbet is like a second cousin to the ice cream family. You won’t likely see as many varieties of sherbert around as you will ice cream or gelato. Sherbet is a treat halfway between ice cream and sorbet. It contains milk, but far less than ice cream or gelato, and it is always fruit based.
Frozen yogurt is made with a base mixture of yogurt, milk and cream. Some frozen yogurts may have the slightly sour flavor of regular yogurt. People often tout frozen yogurt as a healthier alternative to regular ice cream treats, but it’s worth noting that the FDA has no set standard for how much yogurt must be present in order to call a product “frozen yogurt.” Moreover, most of the probiotic benefits of yogurt are lost in the freezing process.
"We recommend good old ice cream in sundaes and atop pies, gelato as a treat best enjoyed on its own, and sorbet or sherbet for those trying to avoid high-fat foods."
In the end, choosing the right frozen treat just depends on the audience and the occasion. We recommend good old ice cream in sundaes and atop pies, gelato as a treat best enjoyed on its own, and sorbet or sherbet for those trying to avoid high-fat foods. There’s no wrong answer here. If it’s a frozen dessert you’re after, any of the above varieties will do.