What's The Difference Between Ice Cream And Gelato?

Don’t know your sherbet from your sorbet? Here's everything you need to know about your fave frozen treats.
Nine ice cream scoops on marble table Nine scoops, please! Photo, Erik Putz.

I always scream for ice cream. And if you’re anything like me, you know there’s nothing better than a cold scoop on a hot summer’s day. While ice cream might be a simple pleasure, it seems like there are now an endless number of sub-zero treats to choose from.

The options in grocery store freezer aisles are growing, and I understand it might be confusing when you get to the front of the line at your city’s hot new ice cream joint. So how do you navigate this big world of frozen, creamy goodness? (And what really is the difference between ice cream and gelato anyway?)

Here’s everything you need to know about all the different types of ice cream.

Ice Cream vs. Gelato

Ice Cream

If you’re heading to a scoop shop (or a popular chain like Baskin Robbins) you’ll get hard ice cream. According to David Lebovitz’s best-selling, and recently revised cookbook The Perfect Scoop, there are two main types of classic ice cream: French and Philadelphia-style. French-style ice cream has a yolky custard base, while Philadelphia-style is a mixture of milk or cream, sugar and flavourful ingredients, like fruit, chocolate or vanilla beans—you typically get Philadelphia-style at classic scoop shops. But if you’re wondering what makes vanilla different from French vanilla, it’s the egg yolks!


This Italian-style ice cream uses more milk than cream and rarely contains egg yolks. It’s churned at a slower rate than ice cream, which gives it that dense, almost sticky mouthfeel. It’s chilled and served a few degrees warmer than hard ice cream.

Three ice cream scoops in waffle cone. When you can't choose just one. Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Soft-Serve Ice Cream

Once relegated only to fast-food restaurants and ice cream trucks, soft-serve ice cream has now become a gourmet treat thanks to chains like the Toronto-based Sweet Jesus, Milk Bar and countless upscale eateries. Soft-serve ice cream has much more air whipped into it than hard ice cream (it can be up to 60 percent air!) But despite it’s airiness, it’s the perfect base for sundaes since it doesn’t have mix-ins like hard ice cream.

Sherbet vs. Sorbet


These two words are not interchangeable! Sorbet refers to a dessert made with fruit and sugar, churned like ice cream, while sherbet is made with fruit, sugar, and a little bit of dairy or cream (between 1 to 2 percent milkfat, as per FDA regulations south of the border).

Nice Cream

When frozen bananas meet a high-powered blender or food processor, they transform into a rich, velvety soup with a similar texture to soft-serve. But since this icy dairy-free treat is basically a fruit salad, it gets the name “nice cream.” You can easily make it at home, though Toronto’s home to Nanashake, a nice cream parlour.

Salted caramel ice cream bars Brownie ice cream sammies. Photo, Erik Putz.

Frozen Yogurt

Fro-yo usually contains less fat than traditional ice cream because it’s made with milk and yogurt instead of cream. The good stuff usually has an irresistible tang (but the stuff pouring out of the machines ubiquitous DIY fro-yo sundae bars hits the spot, too). But even though fro-yo is lower in fat than traditional ice cream, it's still loaded with sugar.

Dairy-Free Ice Cream

Plant-based diets and veganism are growing in popularity, and so too are dairy-free ice cream options. Find alternatives to the milk-and-cream-laden classic at most major grocery stores made with soy, coconuts, almonds and cashews from big brands like President’s Choice, Ben and Jerry’s and Breyers.

Halo Top Ice Cream

Instead of being sweetened with sugar, Halo Top uses stevia to create pints of ice cream that clock in at around 300 calories each. Breyers Delights and Canadian brand CoolWay (sweetened with a sugar alcohol) also have low-cal, low-sugar pints available in supermarkets across the country.

How to make chocolate ice cream


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