Ice creams and gelati/helados are not interchangeable terms. Confused? Yes, so was I, until recently. Although I have always recognized the textural and flavor differences between the two, I always assumed that the Italian gelati were just creamier and more flavorful. I kind of guessed air content was substantially higher in commercial ice creams but that was the extent of my curiosity about the matter. However, this recent trip through Barcelona, Florence and Rome piqued my interest as we encountered spectacular helado, after helado before gelato and more stunning gelato!!! I kid you not, we must have ordered at least 100 scoops of helado/gelato in a three week period! In New York, last year, I ran into my favorite Il Laboratorio del Gelato at the Museum of Modern Art and wrote it up in a post, here. But even I seemed to use the terms ice cream and gelato interchangeably then. Boy, was I ill-informedâ€¦
Ice creams run the gamut from highly commercial supermarket brands such as Nestle to premium brands such as Haagen Daz. Ice creams should contain a phenomenal amount of butterfat ranging up to say 30% for the finest brands, though I suspect local Philippine ice creams are at the lowest range of say 10-12% butterfat. The butterfat comes from the cream used. Ice creams also have a lot of air mixed inâ€¦up to 50% air for supermarket brands in the U.S. and again, I suspect, up to 60% or more air for Philippine grocery brands. The air gets trapped in the cream and when frozen, allows it to seem bulky but when you eat it, the ice cream literally vaporizes in your mouth and it feels really â€œairy.â€ Frankly, I detest airy ice cream. Not to mention ice cream with additives, stabilizers and preservatives. I have made ice cream from scratch at home, with an old-fashioned â€œchurner,â€ and it isnâ€™t that hard to do, so itâ€™s disappointing when commercial versions are just so, well, commercial.
Gelatos or helados, on the other hand, usually have very little or no cream. They are mostly made with whole milk instead, resulting in a butterfat content of 8% or less. What?! We were eating gelato like crazy and itâ€™s the cooled milk/cream equivalent of diet ice cream??? Yahoo! What makes it even more distinctive is a whole lot more egg yolks (hence denseness and â€œrichnessâ€) and almost no added airâ€¦or at least a lot less air than traditional ice creams. Also, it isnâ€™t frozen to that rock hard stage and is often kept just below freezing so it is softer and more supple when you eat it. It also looks more appealing when displayed in huge mountains of gelato at the gelateriasâ€¦ Another factor that makes it so incredibly good is the intensity of flavorâ€¦I think they just use better flavor bases and more of it relative to the milk! I mean chocolate is really chocolateâ€¦ Besides the gelati, the sorbets in Italy were also incredibly intenseâ€¦raspberry, blackberry and even mango sorbets were superb! Apparently, the key to really good sorbets is much more creamed fresh fruit, less water and good sugar and some lemon to brighten all the flavors!