Gelato – which translates to “frozen” from Italian – is a frozen dessert of Italian origin.
Artisanal gelato in Italy generally contains 6-10% butterfat, which is lower than other styles of frozen dessert.
Gelato typically contains 70% less air and more flavoring than other kinds of frozen desserts, giving it a density and richness that distinguishes it from other ice creams.
It is an age-old delicacy that dates back thousands of years. The earliest beginnings of frozen desserts are recorded in 3000 BC when Asian cultures discovered they could consume crushed ice and flavorings.
Five hundred years later, it became a custom for Egyptian pharaohs to offer their guests a cup of ice sweetened with fruit juices.
Italians joined in as the Romans began the ritual of eating the ice of the volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius, and covering it with honey.
The Arabs developed shrb (sugar syrup) and in Palermo they grew 400 different types of flowers to flavor their sorbets.
Then came the Italian Renaissance during the 14th century, when gelato was officially developed by famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti.
Gelato in its modern form however, is credited to the Italian chef Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli who in the late 1600s opened his “Café Procope” in Paris and introduced gelato at his café, earning notability first in Paris and then in the rest of Europe. Thanks to gelato, Procopio not only obtained French citizenship, but also got an exclusive royal licence issued by King Louis XIV, making him at the time the sole producer of the frozen dessert in the kingdom.
Gelato came to the United States in 1770. It was introduced to the Americas by Italian native Giovanni Biasiolo. Unfortunately, it was around the same time that the hand crank freezer was invented and ice cream overshadowed gelato. In fact, historians don’t see much about this Italian dessert again until the 1900s.
In the 1900s-1950s, different innovations made the automatic production of gelato easier. The Motogelatiera was created, which was the first automatic machine that made gelato. Other innovations like the batch freezer made it easier to store frozen desserts such as gelato. Around the 1940s, Bruto Carpigiani worked to create machines that would make the production of gelato safer and easier. Nowadays, Carpigiani is one of the biggest manufacturers of gelato machinery. Today, gelato is known worldwide and Italy is the only country where the market share of artisanal gelato versus mass-produced gelato is over 55%.
Today, gelato stores are opening all over the U.S. as Americans start to appreciate the superior quality of gelato and learn about the intense flavor, the natural ingredients and the nutritional value of gelato. And
though gelato still remains largely undiscovered in the U.S. compared to Europe, companies are working to change that by training owners and employees of gelato shops and other foodservice establishments to combine technology with the tried and true Italian techniques – to consistently produce the creamiest, smoothest, most flavorful gelato around.
The process of making gelato consists of heating the ingredients to 85 °C (185 °F) for pasteurization. Then, it is lowered to 5 °C (41 °F) and mixed to the desired texture.
The cold process mixes the ingredients and is batched in the freezer.
In the “sprint” process, milk or water is added to a package of ingredients which is then mixed and batched.
As with other ice creams, the sugar in gelato prevents it from freezing solid by binding to the water and interfering with the normal formation of ice crystals. This creates smaller ice crystals and results in the smooth texture of gelato. American commercial gelati are typically sweetened with sucrose, dextrose, or inverted sugar, and include a stabilizer such as guar gum.
Traditional flavors of gelato consist of vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, pistachio, cream (also known as custard) and stracciatella.
Stracciatella is a variety of gelato, consisting of milk-based ice cream filled with fine, irregular shavings of chocolate. It was originally created in Bergamo, northern Italy, at the Ristorante La Marianna in 1961. It was inspired by stracciatella soup, made from egg and broth, which is popular around Rome. It is one of the most renowned Italian gelato flavours.
More modern flavors consist also of fruity flavors such as raspberry, strawberry, apple, lemon and pineapple.
Gelato is both lower in fat and calories compared to traditional American ice cream. In the US ice cream is generally made with cream, and is classified by its butterfat content (12% – 25%).
It contains a high number of vitamins. Fruit sorbettos tend to have a higher amount of vitamins in them, but even cream flavors made from milk contain essential vitamins.
Gelato is served 10-15 degrees warmer than ice cream. Since it is less solidly frozen, gelato’s taste is further enhanced as it melts in the mouth.