The difference between ice cream gelato and sorbet

Certain differences define each of your frozen favourites.

Unless you make your own, you may be forgiven for thinking ice cream and gelato are simply different names for the same treat. Here are definitions of ice cream, gelato and sorbet and their essential ingredients.

Ice cream

Ice cream is a sweet, frozen dessert made from cream or milk products (or both) and other ingredients and is generally aerated. A food that is sold as ‘ice cream’ must contain no less than 100g/kg of milk fat and 168g/L of food solids.

In its most basic form, ice cream is a mixture of cream and/or milk, sugar and sometimes eggs. It is frozen while being churned to create a frozen product. In commercial ice-cream making, stabilizers such as plant gums are usually added, and the mixture is pasteurised and homogenised. The mixture may have flavourings added, from something as simple as vanilla to fruit or other more exotic flavours.

The mixture is then frozen in special machines that agitate it, using paddles or dashers, combining air to keep the ice crystals small and freeze it at the perfect rate to create a smooth, creamy-textured ice cream.


Gelato means ‘ice cream’ in Italian, but the two are not the same. Gelato generally contains less fat than ice cream, as gelato uses whole milk while ice cream is made with cream. It also has less air churned into it during freezing, which makes its texture denser. Gelato is traditionally served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so it feels a bit softer and looks glossier.


Sorbet contains just fruit and sugar. It does not contain any dairy. It’s often churned in an ice cream maker, which makes it scoop-able but not creamy. Restaurants use sorbet as a palate cleanser during multi-course meals because its intense fruit flavour is extra refreshing. It is also very easy to make at home.