Did you know that all the ingredients you need to make gelato are probably already in your own kitchen? Gelato is made with ingredients that are all found in nature making it both a healthy and natural dessert. To better understand what makes the delicious, creamy Italian ice cream, here’s a list of the ingredients that it’s made from:
Depending on whether you want to make a cream flavor (such as chocolate or vanilla) or a fruit flavor (such as strawberry or mango), you need either water or milk. The best type of milk for the cream flavors of gelato is whole milk (3.5%), but some gelato makers use reduced-fat milk (1% or 2%), fat-free milk (skim) or even soy milk! The milk helps the gelato obtain a creamy and smooth texture, but it also increases its resistance to melting so you can take your time to enjoy it on a hot day. Milk used in gelato is a great way to not only add protein to your diet, but to get an extra serving of calcium.
If you want to make a fruit flavor of gelato (also known as sorbetto), gelato makers use water. While tap water will work just fine, the quality and consistency of tap water can vary from place to place so the best sorbetto is made with filtered water. Try drinking a glass of tap water and a glass of filtered water (or bottled water) and see if you can taste a difference. If you can, that means your sorbetto will taste differently as well, depending on which one you use! Because water freezes, this ingredient helps the sorbet to keep its frozen quality. Water also helps to hydrate and disperse the other ingredients.
Is anything sweeter than our next ingredient? Gelato makers add sugar to bring sweetness to the mix, but also to help decrease the freezing point and increase the viscosity. We learned that the water in gelato will freeze, but adding sugar to the mix will allow it to maintain a soft but not melted texture. There are many different types of sugar that can be used, each bringing a different level of sweetness. Some of the types include: sucrose (cane sugar), dextrose, lactose (natural sugar from milk), fructose (natural sugar from fruit), and invert sugars (glucose, honey and corn syrup). Invert sugars can be used similar to sweeteners, but are completely natural. The only thing sweeter than regular sugar? Invert sugar! Keep in mind it doesn’t take as much invert sugar as regular sugar to sweeten a mix.
In some cases, sugar is substituted in gelato to appeal to an audience with special dietetic needs. Splenda® Brand Sweetener is one of those substitutes, and creates an equally dynamic gelato product. Gelato makers are truly committed to being able to supply their customers with options that can fit into any diet, and as the industry continues to grow, researching new substitutes for sugar is a focus.
Another ingredient that is used to make gelato is milk-solids-non-fat (MSNF), which consists of protein, lactose and minerals found in dairy products. A gelato maker can add skim milk powder, milk or cream to the product for the benefits of MSNF. This is another ingredient that increases the percentage of proteins and improved the texture of the gelato at the same time. Too little MSNF might make the gelato icy, while too much could make the texture grainy. Just the right amount of MSNF makes the gelato delicious!
Stabilizers and Emulsifiers
To keep that gelato in a perfect swirl on top of your cone, gelato makers often add food additives, in the forms of stabilizers and emulsifiers. These food additives preserve flavor and improve taste and appearance. Stabilizers act as thickening agents to give gelato a firmer texture. Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together so the gelato mix is consistent from the first scoop to the last. Both of these additives come from natural substances and are used in very small amounts. When making gelato, it’s important to check all your ingredients because some semi-finished gelato bases already contain these ingredients.
What’s your favorite gelato flavor? It would be hard to argue with the common assumption that flavor is one of the most important characteristics of gelato. Two important things to remember when talking about flavor are type and intensity. Flavors can come in the form of pastes or powders and from low to high intensity. But above all, the best type is a high-quality flavor that will be consistent. This means that every time you pick your favorite flavor, it will taste exactly like you remember it!
Fruit is a great addition to any fruit-flavored gelato (known as sorbetto). Fruit can be added as fresh, frozen, juice or fruit puree. The natural acidity in the fruit helps to characterize the flavor and the natural sugar sweetens the mix. While fresh fruit makes for a really intense gelato, frozen or fruit puree is a great way to enjoy your favorite fruit out of season. So when you’re craving the taste of watermelon in January, stop by your local gelato store for some “remind-you-of-summer” sorbetto!
Not to be overlooked, air is an important ingredient too! As gelato is being frozen, the liquid mix is whipped with air to increase the volume of the product and smooth out the texture. “Overrun” is the term typically used for the amount of air whipped into the product. Because milk-based gelato is denser than water-based sorbetto, it has more overrun. It’s important to remember that the air used to make gelato should be from a clean environment so there’s no affect on the taste of your gelato.