24 Things to Know About Gelato

Y’know what I love? Gelato. I love eating it, making it, writing about it… It’s an inexpensive culinary souvenir, an edible piece of Italian culture, and supremely refreshing during Italy’s notoriously hot summers.

Here are a few things you should know about Italian gelato, whether you’re planning to eat it in Italy or you’ve got a good gelateria near where you live.

24 Things You Should Know About Italian Gelato

  1. The word “gelato” simply means “frozen,” so it can be (and is) used for more than just Italian ice cream.
  2. “Gelato” is the past participle of the Italian verb “gelare,” which means “to freeze,” so you Italian language learners can go ahead and conjugate that one now.
  3. A shop that sells gelato is called a “gelateria” – the plural of the word is “gelaterie.”
  4. Fun gelato idiomatic expression: “gelato dalla paura” means “scared stiff.”
  5. Gelato has a lower fat content than ice cream.
  6. Rather than cream, most gelato is made with whole milk.
  7. What gelato loses in the fat content race, it makes up for in sugar – there’s usually more sugar in Italian gelato than in regular ice cream.
  8. Gelato is much more dense and flavorful than factory-made ice cream, since there’s less air churned into the mixture.
  9. The best gelato is made without preservatives, so it has a shorter shelf-life. In other words, the best gelaterie are making fresh gelato on a regular basis.
  10. The ancient Romans and Egyptians served frozen sweets, usually made with preserved ice and snow brought from nearby mountains.
  11. The first creation of stuff we’d recognize as modern gelato probably dates to the mid-16th century, when a chef in Florence developed a way of keeping his frozen desserts cold.
  12. Perhaps because of this, Florence has a reputation as being one of the best places to get gelato in Italy – but, truth be told, there’s excellent quality gelato in just about every corner of the country.
  13. Most gelato makers in Italy tend to stick to traditional flavors, but you’ll see some crazy-sounding (or crazy-looking) gelato flavors in some shops – including puffo (the Italian word for Smurf) and Viagra.
  14. Fruit flavored gelato typically has very little dairy in it, and can be called “sorbetto” – but in Italy it’s still most likely to be called gelato.
  15. In Sicily, gelato is traditionally served inside a brioche bun.
  16. Gelato “affogato” is a scoop of gelato (usually vanilla) with a shot of espresso poured over the top.
  17. When discussing whether certain flavors go together, Italians use the phrase “marries well” – as in, “do these flavors marry well?” In Italian, that’s “questi gusti si sposano bene?”
  18. There is such a thing as bad gelato. You can avoid paying for (or eating) it with my guide to finding good gelato.
  19. The best gelato has no artificial colors. That means pistachio gelato should be very pale green, and banana gelato should be cream-colored. Fake colors indicate sub-par gelato.
  20. When ordering gelato, you order by the number of flavors (gusti) you want – not the number of scoops. More flavors in a small cup means smaller portions of each one, but basically the same amount of gelato.
  21. Most gelaterie have more than just standard gelato available. You can also get things like semifreddo, which is more fluffy and mousse-like, as well as granita, which is like an ice slush. Granita is particularly common and popular in the summer.
  22. Gelato is often served with a helping of whipped cream on top – you’ll likely be asked if you want your gelato “con panna,” with cream. You can skip it if you like.
  23. In many gelaterie in Italy, you’ll have to pay for your gelato first at the cash register and then present your receipt to the person actually serving the gelato to make your flavor selections. (Learn more about how to order gelato in Italy.)
  24. When visiting Italy, it’s imperative to have gelato at least twice per day. That’s my tried-and-true rule, and I invite you to embrace it completely.

Now then, how about planning a trip to Italy to get some of that gelato you’re dreaming about? Check flights to Italy and then make a beeline for the nearest (good) gelateria!

photos by fortes, thy, Fooding Around, stu_spivack, missmeng

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