I Scream for Ice Cream

IMG_2240_revisedRemember when our choices of frozen treats used to be so simple: vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry? Nowadays, even 31 flavors seems a puny offering when you can find frozen confections in every imaginable flavor, one more outrageous than the next, and with a variety that is able to satisfy every eater from strict vegans (try avocado-coconut) to adventurous foodies (think strawberry and jalapeno).

But for those of us who still wonder at the basic differences between ice cream and gelato or sorbet and sherbet (and how to correctly pronounce each), here’s the lowdown on frozen desserts, no matter the flavor:

Ice Cream: In the U.S., by labeling regulations, ice cream is a dairy product made with at least 10% milkfat. (Note that frozen treats made with alternative nondairy milk, such as coconut milk or soy milk, cannot be labeled ice cream.) Traditionally, ice cream is made with simply cream, sugar, and eggs. Though air is not labeled as an ingredient, it does make up nearly half the volume of this whipped delight.

Gelato (juh-LAH-toh): This smoother, softer cousin of ice cream has a lower milkfat than ice cream and has less air and usually a higher sugar content than ice cream, that yields stronger, more concentrated flavors than ice cream.

Frozen Dairy Product: This is reserved for those reduced or nonfat frozen desserts that cannot be legally labeled as ice cream because of their low level of milkfat. With so many other delicious options, really, why would you?

Frozen Yogurt: Okay, if you must…. Fro-yo, which had a boom in the days of low-fat everything (and seemingly still holds strong, proved by the Saturday afternoon lines around every New York City block), is interestingly enough, not defined under U.S. federal regulations (which actually makes me think, What’s in that Pinkberry swirl?) It is, however, defined by some states as a frozen dairy product made using at least some milk that has been fermented by active cultures of bacteria. Well, that clears it up.

Sorbet (sor-BAY): This is a fruit or juice-based frozen dessert. Sorbet is churned, the same way ice cream is made, but it does not contain dairy and eggs. (Eat up vegans!)

Sherbet (SHER-bit): Made in the same fashion as sorbet, but with the addition of a small amount of milk, which makes it oh-so-creamy.

Granita (gruh-NEE-tuh): Very similar to Sorbet, but crunchier and coarser in texture. Granitas are frozen juice or (other beverage, such as coffee) that is blended by hand or in a blender rather than churned in an ice cream machine. It is then poured in a container and stirred at intervals to create an icy, flaky texture.