July 16, 2018


Gelato vs. Ice cream? A cinematic investigation

When I hear the word gelato, I think about a scene at the end of the 2017 movie Logan Lucky. In it, the character played by Channing Tatum—complete with royal blue Lowe’s Home Improvement hat and a West Virginian accent so syrupy it could be poured on pancakes—picks up his daughter from his ex-wife’s house. As they walk to his truck, they discuss the afternoon’s plans.

“So I was thinkin’,” he says to his sparkle-shoed daughter. “Putt-putt golf.”
“Sure,” she responds. “As long as we get gelato after.”
“Gelato,” he replies, skeptically. “Ain’t that, like, fancy ice cream?”

His daughter goes on to explain that it’s not just fancy ice cream. It’s made at a slower churn rate, so less air gets mixed in. “Churn rate?” Tatum asks. “How fast the paddle in the machine moves,” she replies authoritatively. With that, he puts his truck in gear and pulls out in search of mini-golf and fancy ice cream.

Now when I eat gelato, I ask myself one thing: Was that kid a damn liar? What if—and hear me out, food snobs—gelato is just fancy ice cream. What if Hollywood was pulling the churned cream over my eyes? As any good investigative reporter would, I went in search of answers. Ruben Toraño is a baker at Commissary, which means—in addition to cookie baking and pie making—he’s in charge of stuffing the gelato freezer with flavors like s’mores, prickly pear lime, and buttermilk vanilla. It also means he’s my go-to expert on all things sweet.

“First of all,” he says, “gelato has less fat than ice cream.” (Great news! Add another scoop!) “Ice cream, by law, has to contain 10 percent butterfat. Gelato usually comes in around five to seven percent.” That’s not the huge differentiator. The real difference comes when the machine spins and produces overrun—a technical culinary term for “air stuck in delicious freezing cream.” Ice cream is spun at a faster rate, which incorporates more air; gelato is churned slowly, creating a denser, more concentrated product.

Here’s an easy test to help visualize: Take a scoop of ice cream and a scoop of gelato; leave them on the counter, and return five minutes later. The ice cream will be a puddle of milkshake, the gelato less so. That’s all thanks to the churn rate. So, it turns out, that tiny fictional child is not a liar. But I won’t tell if you keep calling it fancy ice cream. —Bradford Pearson

The Details: Commissary, 1217 Main Street. Free gelato samples!