What’s the Difference Between Frozen Desserts?

Ice cream, sorbet, gelato… all of the names can get confusing when it comes to frozen treats. So what’s the difference between them all anyway? Here is the difference between frozen desserts.

Ice Cream:

Let’s start with Ice Cream, since it’s probably the frozen treat that we all know and love. Ice cream is made from a base of milk, cream and sugar. The ice cream base is churned and chilled and some ice cream manufacturers add air during this process to make it lighter and fluffier. Either way, Americans have enjoyed this frozen treat for centuries. In fact, rumor has it that the Governor of Maryland hosted a party in the 1700’s and served ice cream to his guests, including George Washington.


The Italian ice cream. Gelato is made up of the same base as American ice cream: milk, cream and sugar, but is churned at a slower pace and chilled at a higher degree. And unlike American ice cream, air isn’t added to the churning process. So gelato tends to be creamier and more flavorful, often times without as much fat.

Soft Serve:

Soft Serve is made with the same base as ice cream, but is similar to gelato in the fact that it is frozen at higher temperatures. This makes it soft and creamy. It also doesn’t have the same “numbing” affect on the tastebuds that ice cream has because it’s not as cold.

Frozen Yogurt:

Made with a milk base like ice cream, with one extra ingredient: yogurt. It can be served frozen like ice cream or gelato or soft serve style. A lot of people assume that because it is frozen yogurt, it is better for you. Chances are it is, if the yogurt base wasn’t heat-treated during the processing killing off all of the cultures. It’s also lower in fat because it contains milk rather than cream. And because of the yogurt base, it gives off a tarter taste than that of ice cream.

Frozen Custard:

Essentially, this treat is the same as ice cream, but the base includes egg yolks. It is much denser than ice cream. The lecithin in the egg yolks acts as an emulsifier, giving frozen custard a richer, creamier texture.


Sorbet is a non-dairy frozen treat made up of fruit juice (or puree), flavorings and sugar. It is egg free as well and is usually fruit flavored. The finished product gives a nice snowy texture.


Sherbet often gets confused with sorbet. While it has the same base as sorbet, it also contains 1-2% milkfat. So it keeps the same refreshing fruit-filled flavor as sorbet, but has the creamy texture of ice cream.


Granita is made using the same ingredients in a sorbet, except it is made by hand. The base is usually frozen in a bowl, and then chopped up and stirred rapidly with a fork, giving it a frozen flaky texture.

Now that you know the difference between all of these fabulous frozen dishes, can you guess which frozen treat is in the image above?

What’s your favorite frozen dessert?

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