FLORENCE, Italy – There is no shortage of gelato here in Florence, and I have certainly been enjoying my fair share of the tasty treat. In the more touristy areas of the city – around the Duomo, near Ponte Vecchio and in some of the more popular piazzas, – gelaterias display signs that read “ice cream.” This confused me, at first, as I have always recognized an obvious difference between gelato and ice cream. I have learned, however, that ice cream does, indeed, translate to “gelato” in Italian. While the same word may be used to name the two types of dessert, Italian gelato and American-style ice cream do have several important differences.
The main factor that influences the differences in the taste, texture and nutritional value between gelato and ice cream is fat content. Ice cream, with a heavier, creamier texture and taste, contains more fat. Eggs and cream are used in ice cream, causing its fat content to be higher than that of gelato, which is made with fewer egg yolks than ice cream and is prepared with more milk rather than cream.
The cream used to make ice cream enables air to be whipped into the dessert when it is churned at a fast speed. Gelato is churned at a much slower speed than ice cream. The slower churning and the lack of cream prevent as much air from being whipped into the substance. For this reason, gelato is denser than ice cream. Because it is made with milk rather than cream, gelato has a milky texture while ice cream is creamier.
The amounts of sugar and other ingredients added are not part of what deem a substance gelato or ice cream, but there are undoubtedly some differences in what is included to flavor the dessert.
My favorite gelateria/bakery, ARA’: è Sicilia, located several blocks away from the Duomo on Via Degli Alfan, has been making homemade gelato since it opened about one year ago.
I can taste the fresh, flavorful ingredients in every spoonful of any unique flavor I try. My personal favorite is Madagascar Vanilla with Sicilian Lemon, but flavors like Ricotta and Wild Fennel are surprisingly sweet and tasty, as well.
In a kitchen upstairs, the Sicilian owner makes all of the gelato and bakery items sold. He uses fresh milk from a nearby farm and regularly purchases other ingredients from local markets. All ingredients used are organic and have known origins.
The process used to make gelato and the ingredients that go into prove the Italian version of an American favorite to be less fattening and more nutritious. I am realizing that, while Italians may appear to be consuming just as many unhealthy foods as Americans, many of the foods that they are consuming are prepared in a healthier way with fresher, more natural ingredients.