I think I want to experiment with the differences between gelato, ice cream, and sorbet next week, so I figured I’d create a summary for myself (as a reference, because I’ll probably forget at some point what the difference is between gelato and ice cream).
As I understand it, ice cream is made with heavy cream, milk, sugar, eggs, and flavorings. Basically, you make a custard, chill it, and then churn it as it cools down and freezes. What the churning process accomplishes is an even distribution of the ice crystals, since the ingredients are cooled down to below the freezing point while moving – this means that your ice cream isn’t just a hunk of ice surrounded by fat and flavors, but a cohesive frozen mixture. Ice cream is generally more airy and more creamy than other frozen treats because of the heavy cream. This is because heavy cream has a higher capacity for storing air (hello, whipped cream!) and because heavy cream has more fat, making for a smoother texture in the ice cream.
On to gelato! Hailing from Italy, this frozen dessert is denser and less fatty than ice cream. This is because it’s made with more milk than heavy cream, while ice cream has more cream than milk. Since milk has less fat than cream, gelato has a different texture resulting from this lack of fat. It’s also denser because cream can hold more air than milk can (have you ever succeeded at creating whipped milk?).
Finally, sorbet! (Or sorbetto, if you’re Italian.) Sorbets are generally fruit-flavored (though you can make chocolate sorbet) and made with sugar, water, and fruit puree. The ice-cream-type appearance is achieved through churning; because the ice crystals are distributed as they freeze, the dessert becomes a sorbet and not a large chunk of ice.
There you have it! If I’m missing any information, please let me know! I hope this is helpful for you; I know it is for me!