How to Identify Quality Gelato
Not all gelato is created equal; just like anything else, you’ll find both the good and the bad. And here’s the downside: while the good is great, the bad is really bad. With the vast majority of gelato served in the U.S. made from pastes and powders, however, how can someone new to gelato be able to identify the difference?
If you’re wondering how to identify quality gelato, don’t sweat it. We’ll show you how, starting with the gelato’s appearance.
Gelato should be a slightly milked-down, pastel version of its primary ingredient; it should almost never be bright and vibrant. It’s worth noting that high-quality natural ingredients may have colors that are naturally more subdued than what we’re used to, since many stores sell highly processed foods that have artificial colors added in. If you walk into a gelateria (gelato shop) and you see unnaturally bright gelatos, they’re probably made with artificial ingredients like the pastes and powders mentioned above.
The exception to this is the gelateria’s sorbettos; since sorbettos are made with water instead of dairy and generally consist of about 50% fruit, they’re often more vibrantly colored. That being said, lemon sorbetto is white instead of yellow, and mint sorbetto is not bright green.
You should beware of gelaterias that stack their gelato into high piles. Since gelato oxidizes, having a lot of surface area exposed to the air is undesirable. A shop that practices this does not take care of its product, which you can thus expect to be inferior.
Gelato should also have a matte appearance instead of a shiny one. Shiny gelato is melting gelato. Over time, this gelato will melt and refreeze, damaging its structural integrity and texture. This melting is due to high temperature fluctuations within the display case and/or direct exposure to sunlight. In either situation, you can imagine that the gelatiere (gelato maker) does not have much regard for his or her product, leaving you wondering why you should want to eat it.
High quality gelato should have a spreadable consistency, unlike the much harder, more brittle ice cream. Neither gelato nor sorbetto should ever have visible or palpable ice crystals. If the gelato is either gummy or thick, that’s also a sign that you’re not getting the good stuff, as it indicates the overuse of emulsifiers and thickeners.
Another consistency indicator to search for is how quickly it melts. True artisanal gelato should melt relatively quickly once out of the case; if it doesn’t, it was likely been made with too many emulsifiers and thickeners. The reason the shop owner might want to overuse these additives is to make the product more resilient and long lasting, but of course this is done at the cost of the consistency and texture of the gelato.
Types of Flavors
If you want to know if your gelato is the real deal, look all of the flavors the gelato parlor is offering; this is one of the best indicators that everyone can use to look for authenticity. Because artisanal gelato is made from fresh, pure ingredients, you should skip gelaterias offering flavors like “bubble gum” or “birthday cake,” because these are all artificially made instead of being made from scratch.
Taste & Flavor
And now, here’s the indicator that matters most: how artisanal gelato actually tastes.
Artisanal gelato should have a clean, flavorful, pure taste. It should actually taste like the flavor it’s claiming to be. The flavor will develop like a bell curve, with the flavor getting stronger as you eat and having a pleasant, lingering after taste.
Gelato made from pastes and powders, on the other hand, is full of aromatics instead of the actual ingredient. These aromatics have a strong punch that work more like an illusion of actual flavor, but it fades quickly, leaving—in the worst cases— a bitter after taste.
Because true artisanal gelato is more nutritionally balanced than artificially-made gelato, most people also won’t experience the same kind of sugar rush—and crash—as a result.
Gelato can be an exceptionally indulgent eating experience second to none—but only if you’re actually eating authentic artisanal gelato. By understanding the differences between good gelato and inauthentic gelato made from pastes, powders, and additives, you’ll be able to know when you’re getting the good stuff—and when you’re not.