Gelato, ice cream, and sorbet are all delicious, especially in these still steamy waning days of summer, but these three cool treats are different branches of the frozen dessert tree. Here are the creamy details:
Gelato: made with milk, cream, sugar, and possibly a flavoring (mint, espresso, fruit, etc…), gelato is made in the Italian style, which means slowly stirred by a machine while freezing, result in very little air being whipped in.
Ice cream: a generally broad term used to describe a frozen dessert, typically made with milk, cream, sugar, and flavoring. A specific characteristic of ice cream is it is churned by a machine to incorporate significant amounts of air into the dessert, creating a more whipped texture.
Sorbet: made distinctly from sweetened juice, wine, or water and always dairy free. Very little air is incorporated during the freezing process in a machine, and alcohol is often included to reduce iciness.
Sherbet: the love child of ice cream and sorbet. Juice, wine, or water-based with a small amount of dairy mixed in. Processed similar to ice cream with a small amount of air being whipped in.
Granita: made with the same ingredients as sorbet, sweetened juice, wine, or water, but produced without a machine. Granita is frozen in a standard freezer, then scraped periodically with a fork to create large ice crystals.
Italian ice: Very similar to sorbet, but is typically made without any alcohol to produce a coarser texture. The absence of alcohol and coarse texture often makes Italian ice less costly.
Frozen custard: Made with the same ingredients as ice cream but with the addition of egg yolks, creating possibly a more expensive but very dense dessert.
Soft-serve ice cream: Made with the same ingredients as ice cream, but copious amounts of air are whipped into the cream during the freezing process. The additional air is typically 50% or greater of the finished product, allowing for easy dispensing.
Shaved ice: The odd man out here, but one of my favorites. Made with thinly chipped fragments of ice and topped with a flavored syrup before serving.