raspberry sorbet

The Difference Between Gelato, Sorbet, Sherbet and Ice Cream! (There IS A Difference)

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Do you hate it when someone offers “gelato” but then hands you a bowl of sorbet? Or when you order frozen yoghurt, only to receive soft-serve ice cream?

Or worse: Maybe you’re the one disappointing your dessert-savvy dinner guests. Well, this guide should help you keep your frozen treats cool.

Ice cream

Let’s start with the basics. We all love ice cream. In fact, we all scream for it, experts say. Ice cream is what its name implies: Cream that is slowly frozen while churned, allowing it to capture air particles, making it soft and fluffy. The cream’s butterfat content (usually around 20 percent) gives ice cream its smooth, buttery mouthfeel.

Soft serve ice cream (the extra soft type that usually swirling out of a crank-operated machine) is frozen at a higher temperature (around -4 degrees Celsius, versus around -15 degrees for ordinary ice cream) with a much higher amount of air trapped in the mixture.


In Italian, the word gelato simply means “ice cream” but in English it describes a slightly different dessert. Gelato is made from milk, not cream, and thus contains less fat (around three per cent) and less air. It isn’t as light and fluffy, but it is generally richer and sweeter than ice cream. Gelato newcomers beware: A little goes a long way, so perhaps don’t opt for the giant waffle-cone-sized scoops you might at a traditional ice cream parlour.


Sorbet is made in a similar way to ice cream and gelato, but is water-based and uses no dairy at all. Fruit syrup, puree, honey and liqueur are a few common ingredients behind sorbet’s signature super sweetness. It is dense, smooth and rich like gelato, and the two are often sold together.


Sherbet is related to sorbet, but with a quantity of milk added to the mixture. This makes it creamier, but not as creamy as gelato (at around two per cent fat).

Frozen custard

LIke ordinary custard, frozen custard is made with egg yolks and cream. But don’t confuse the two: Frozen custard uses freezing, not cooking, to firm up and is heavier and richer than normal ice cream.

Panna cotta

Although not actually frozen, pannacotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) is a thick, creamy, pudding-like dessert that is served chilled. It is made from a mixture of cream and gelatin and uses sweet syrups and fruit puree to add flavour. It is about as easy to make as ordinary pudding, but sounds far more impressive. 

Thick milkshake

Outside the United States, a “milkshake” might simply mean a sweet milk drink, with its chunky, frozen version called a “thick milkshake” or “thickshake”. Whatever you call them, these classic diner desserts are made with ice cream blended with unfrozen milk or cream to make them soft and drinkable.

Malted milkshake

Often shortened to “malteds” or “malts”, malted milk shakes are like ordinary shakes but flavoured with malt syrup or powder. But what is malt, exactly? Malt is a cereal grain, usually barley, dried to concentrate its sugars and flavours and then ground into a powder. The sharp, somewhat musky-tasting substance is a key component in beer, but it also goes well in a creamy, smooth shake.

Frozen yoghurt

Frozen yoghurt (aka froyo) has boomed in popularity in recent years, especially in self-serve establishments where you can typically find dozens of flavours and open buffets of toppings. This often makes it taste more like soft serve ice cream than smooth, tart yoghurt, but froyo and soft-serve are not of the same ilk: Frozen yoghurt has far less fat and air content, and is thus richer tasting. Frozen yoghurt might be made fresh and even contain live fermentation cultures, or it might be merely a processed dairy powder mixed with water and poured into a soft-serve machine. The best frozen yoghurt uses the tartness to its advantage and doesn’t mask it with a bunch of sugar.

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