Pistachio Ice Cream or is it Gelato?

Friday, June 18th, 2021

If you grew up in America, odds are you know this little foodie rhyme:

“You scream! I scream! We all scream for ice cream!”

For most Americans, the phrase “ice cream” conjures up memories of summer, like slurping melted cones, banana splits, hot fudge sundaes, root beer floats, and running out to the ice cream truck when you heard the music as it made its way through your neighborhood. Ice cream is the ultimate old-fashioned treat. This dessert has a very worldly history that stretches all around the globe. In Italy, it’s gelato. In Japan, it’s called mochi and in India, there is kulfi. It seems every country has its own spin on the delicious frozen confection we Americans call ice cream. This sweet stuff gets around!

What Is the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?

Gelato and ice cream are both frozen desserts and often are confused for one another—but there are several key differences that make gelato more distinct than just being “Italian ice cream.”

  • Texture

    While gelato is mixed slowly to avoid excess air, ice cream is mixed quickly for more air bubbles. The less air in gelato makes it silky and thick, while ice cream is light and fluffy.

  • Fat content

    Gelato is made with less cream than American ice cream, which means gelato has less fat. Gelato usually has a butterfat content of around 4 to 9 percent, while ice cream has between 14 to 25 percent fat.

  • Temperature

    Gelato is served at temperatures around 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than ice cream, in order to keep gelato’s dense texture from becoming too solid and difficult to eat. This temperature difference also affects the flavor intensity of the desserts—while ice cream is cold enough to numb your tongue, gelato’s less-cold temperature means its flavor comes across much richer.

  • Serving utensils

    Gelato is served with a spade, which allows servers to shape and soften the gelato before serving it; ice cream is served with a scoop, which keeps the ice cream round and fluffy.

Ice Cream and Gelato Bases:

There are several ways to thicken your frozen treat. You’ll have to decide which one appeals more to you.

  1. The Custard Base

    This classic cooked ice cream base is essentially the same as making homemade pudding or custard. It involves cooking eggs yolks together with cream and sugar and makes for a rich-tasting ice cream.

  2. The Philadelphia-Style Base

    This base is made with just cream, sugar, and flavorings. No eggs needed here. Instead, the fat content comes solely from the cream. Some recipes call for heating the ingredients to help the sugar dissolve, while just as many others skip the cooking and go straight to churning. Philadelphia-style ice cream is delicate and smooth, with less richness than a custard-based ice cream.

  3. The Egg-Free Base

    This base was made popular by Jeni Britton Bauer’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Like the name implies, this base skips the eggs (similar to Philadelphia-style), but relies on cornstarch as a thickener, along with a small amount of cream cheese for richness and smooth body.

  4. The No-Churn Base

    Unlike the other three bases, this one doesn’t require any cooking, nor does it require an ice cream maker. Heavy cream, along with sweetened condensed milk (both with high milk-fat contents), are the common ingredients in this frozen dessert. The condensed milk acts as the thick base, while the cream is whipped and folded in to add a light, airy texture.

  5. Gelato Base

    The Gelato base is made from milk, cream, sugar and cornstarch to thicken. Italians invented gelato, so they have firm ideas about it. In their view, gelato is a wholesome, high-calcium, mid-afternoon snack, not a calorific indulgence like ice cream.

Pistachio products:

 Stephen Durfee, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone,uses pistachio paste to make gelato from milk, cream, and sugar. For more mouthfeel, he thickens the base with cornstarch before blending it with pistachio paste. For a pistachio ice cream with whole nuts, he suggests roasting the nuts first to help them stay
crunchy. Use low-temperature roasting to preserve the green color. The base ice cream could be vanilla, pistachio, rose water or saffron.

Other frozen desserts:

 “In my classes we make an Indian-style ice cream called kulfi,” says Chef Durfee. “It’s not aerated. We fold pistachios into it for texture, and it’s molded.” Or make a pistachio semifreddo with crushed pistachio praline. Chef Durfee sometimes makes a nougat glacé: Swiss meringue and whipped cream folded together with pistachio praline, then
frozen. Fold in some candied orange peel and chopped chocolate while you’re at it.

Truth squad:

 Most commercial pistachio ice cream doesn’t even contain pistachios. Manufacturers use almond paste for flavor and green food coloring to produce the hue that consumers expect. Better to educate consumers than to dupe them: Make your pistachio ice cream with real pistachios or pistachio paste and inform patrons that the pale-green color is natural and a sign of purity.

Check out our Pinterest page for several Pistachio Ice Cream and Gelato recipes. For an easy lactose-free version, check out this recipe.

Lactose-Free Pistachio Ice Cream


  • ¾ cup of Heart of the Desert pistachios
  • 1 3/4 cups canned coconut milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cardamom pod


Mix the shelled pistachios in a food processor until you obtain a very fine powder or a smooth paste (or use pistachio butter rather than shelled pistachios). Then add all the ingredients in a saucepan, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods. Let cool briefly, then pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and place it in the freezer. Once the mixture is frozen, remove the cubes from the ice cube tray, then blend in a food processor until you obtain an ice cream texture.

If you are in Southern New Mexico stop into our Alamogordo store for Pistachio Gelato or White Chocolate Chunk Pistachio ice cream. You can experience the difference for yourself.

Now, excuse me while I go get some ice cream for my sweet tooth.



Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico.  They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines.  Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings.  They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts.  The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.