Gelato Ingredients - What you need and why...

Everything you need and why you need it…

The whole ethos of gelato is that it’s healthier than ice cream, this is achieved by using the best quality ingredients possible and not compromising on those ingredients. Put rubbish in, you’re going to get rubbish out…

The word gelato doesn’t just refer to dairy based products, ‘fruit gelato’ doesn’t have to contain any dairy and would be referred to as either sorbet or water ice in the past.

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Gelato Ingredients – What you need and why…

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The individual components or ingredients of gelato are as follows:


Water is the main bulk of all gelato recipes, this may sound odd but it’s true. In dairy based gelato the water comes from the milk and cream whereas in fruit sorbets this water would simply come out of the tap. Water quality for fruit gelato is very important, ideally this should be filtered to remove any impurities, limescale and bacteria as these could affect the taste of your finished product. If your kettle has a white crust of scale in it then I would recommend filtering your water before you make gelato with it.

Remember, any water which comes into contact with your gelato mix or for cleaning purposes needs to be of potable quality. i.e. you need to be able to drink it safely without becoming ill. Avoid using water tank-based water sources as these can sometimes harbour nasty water borne pathogens which you don’t really want in your finished product.

Dairy Products – Milk & Cream

Whole or full fat milk is the usual starting point for most gelato production. This type of milk has a fat content of between 3.6 and 4% fat. Knowing the fat content of your milk is the most important part. By using this as a starting point, you can then balance your recipe with the right amount of cream and sugar to ensure that you have a consistent product.

Cream in the UK comes in three main forms – single, double and whipping cream. Forget about single cream, the fat content is too low in relation to the cost. Double cream should have a fat content of 48% where whipping cream has a fat content of 38%. There’s different thought processes to which is the best option, ultimately once you’ve balanced your recipe to a fat and sugar ratio which gives you the product you’re looking for then stick to it. If you keep changing milk and cream types you will always have an inconsistent finished product, by sourcing a consistent dairy supply, you’ll always end up with a consistent gelato at the end.

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If you have a dairy farm and the milk/cream come straight from the cow, then there will always be a natural variance in the finished product. From a commercial view, this should be your USP and exploit it, don’t hide it!

Different milks can be used to make gelato, these include skimmed milk (to make a different sort of gelato than the usual), soy, almond and rice milks. Recipes using these low fat or fat free ‘milk’ are similar to fruit sorbets and gelatos as they don’t require pasteurisation as part of the production process.

When making your base mix, avoid using high fat dairy products. If your base is really rich, by the time you’ve added flavours and frozen it you may end up with a product which tastes great, but you can’t eat too much of it at a time. (if you’re too high in fat you’re moving away from being gelato and going back to ice cream).

Creams like clotted cream or mascarpone don’t like being heated up as they curdle and split, if you’re looking to make clotted cream gelato, add this to your base mix just before you freeze the product to get the best flavour and texture.

Along with the bulk of the water and fat, the milk and cream provide other key components of the gelato, most importantly milk solids and proteins. The milk solids give the gelato it’s structure and aid in the overall stability of the product especially once the product has been served.

Gelato with a low solid content will melt and collapse quite quickly whilst a product with lots of solids will maintain its structure whilst it warms preventing it from collapsing away to nothing. Low quality products have very low solid levels which is why they end up like shaving foam when they begin melting. Milk proteins are a key part of the mix, the protein in the mix is what holds the air or overrun which gets incorporated during the freezing process.

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The sugar used in gelato making is normal ‘table sugar’ or sucrose. This is the most commonly available form of sugar which means it’s the cheapest. It comes in a number of forms; cube, granulated, caster and icing. Granulated is usually the cheapest and since it’s going to melt into your milk, the larger crystals in comparison to caster won’t make any difference.

The sugar provides several key roles in your gelato. It provides the sweetness (obviously) but it also controls the freezing point of the gelato. Sugar acts as an anti-freeze, too little sugar and your end product will be very hard and crumbly, too much sugar and the product will be gooey and sticky. Typically, if your mix is 8% fat you’ll need 13% sugar content. Sucrose also increases the viscosity of the mixture, trapping some of the ‘free water’ in the mix which helps ensure a smooth non-icy finished product.

Sugar is an important part of both ice cream and gelato.

Other sugars can be used in conjunction with sucrose. Fructose, the sugar naturally found in fruits, has a sweeter taste and can be used to increase the sweetness of the mix without disrupting the freezing point too much. Sugars like dextrose can be used to suppress the freezing point making your product more scoopable at colder temperatures but without adding too much additional sweetness in the taste.
Care must be taken to balance the sugar content with the fat, if too much sugar is in the mix the product may not even freeze at all.

Sugar is an unavoidable component of gelato, removing it completely and replacing it with an artificial sweetener will create an entirely new product. To create a frozen product that looks and tastes like gelato but without any real sugar in it would require a lot of chemistry and the addition of ingredients which would be taking you away from the healthy, minimal ingredients approach of gelato production.

Milk-Solids-Non-Fat (MSNF) or Skimmed Milk Powder

The addition of extra skimmed milk powder to your gelato base mix is purely optional but it does bring quite a bit to the party if you do choose to add it.

Firstly, it increases the milk solids and protein content of the mix which helps with the structure, stability and overrun holding qualities of the finished gelato.

Secondly, it adds viscosity to the mix as it absorbs some of the ‘free water’ in the mix as it re-hydrates. This reduces the amount of water that can turn into individual ice crystals during the freezing process improving the quality of the frozen gelato. Reducing the ice crystal formation also helps preserve the product quality while it’s in deep freeze storage.

There’s a point where too much MSNF will cause the finished product to become grainy and rough in texture. If you’re looking to make, freeze and serve your gelato in a short time frame then the addition of extra milk powder may not be of benefit but if you’re looking to increase shelf life stability and long-term quality then I would recommend it.

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Stabilisers & Emulsifiers

All ice creams and gelato need some form of stabiliser and emulsifier to hold everything together. In the past ingredients like egg yolk would have been used as the stabilising and emulsifying agent forming a thicker custard type of product. These days producers have moved away from using eggs for several reasons; they’re a little unstable and don’t produce a product with a long shelf life, also eggs are another allergen which needs to be declared and handled properly which can all be avoided if they’re removed, and they’re yellow which means your base mix will be yellow as well. This is fine for dark flavours but your red strawberry my come out more orange if your base starts out yellow instead of white.

These days manufacturers, both commercial or artisanal, use a powdered stabiliser/emulsifier mix. These products come in a wide range of forms; some are dairy free to allow you to make vegetarian non-dairy fruit based gelato, some are ‘complete mixes’ which have everything in it you just add milk or water, some have a large amount of dextrose in to take the thinking away from having to balance the recipe properly or a ‘low dosage’ powder that has the minimum of unnecessary ingredients in it.

The stabiliser emulsifier powder which you choose is ultimately down to you and what you believe to be the right product for your business both ethically and commercially.

Regardless of which powder type you choose and from which manufacturer none of the stabilisers and emulsifiers used in the ice cream and gelato industry are ‘nasty’ in anyway. Most, if not all, are derived from natural sources and the quantity used by percentage of the overall mix is tiny.

The most common stabilisers used in gelato production are Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan, Guar Gum and Locust Bean Gum, although there are others. These are all plant-based products which act as thickening agents when they hydrate in the water of the mix. As they hydrate, they form gels which bond all the other molecules of the mixture together, creating a nice uniform product which is stable and doesn’t easily separate.

The different gums have different properties, some work in a ‘static’ way which, when the mix is still liquid, prevents unwanted separation whereas others have ‘shearing’ qualities which help stabilise the mix while its being mixed or churned. The different gums work together which is why it’s common to find several different stabilising gums in gelato mixes.

Emulsifiers usually come in the form of mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids which means next to nothing to almost everyone. They are naturally occurring amino acids, which are the building blocks of all living creatures both plant and animal. The emulsifiers create bonds between the fat molecules of the milk and cream and the water molecules of the mix. These bonds are crucial to ensure an even and smooth finished product. Mixes without any form of emulsifier tend to be slightly grainy in texture and ice up quickly with a short shelf life.

The quantity and combination of stabilisers/emulsifiers which you need to use is very dependent on your sales cycle. If you’re making and selling the gelato in a short window that is a matter of hours, then you can get away with having very little, if any stabilisers or emulsifiers as its being eaten before it’s had time to collapse and separate. If you need a longer shelf life in your display or deep freeze, or need the product to travel, then it will need to be stabilised with something to stop the free water escaping and turning to ice causing an icy grainy texture to the finished product.


This is where your imagination comes in….

There’s hundreds of commercially available gelato flavours on the market in almost every flavour imaginable from apricot to zabalone masala and everything in between…

These come is different forms but typically in either syrups, pastes or powders.
Syrup based flavours are usually the vanillas, mints and coffees or the synthesised flavours like cotton candy or bubble gum. These types of flavour have a typical dosage of 30-50g per litre of base mix.

Pastes cover the fruits and nut flavours. These are made from the actual product and have been refined into a smooth paste in the case of the different nut flavours or a concentrated paste that resembles jam for the fruit flavours. These types of flavour have a typical dosage of 70-100g per litre of mix.

Flavours like chocolate and yogurt come as powders and are simply blended into the base mix. The dosage of the powders is usually around 50g per litre of base mix.

Using a commercially available flavour compound will give you the most consistent flavour throughout the year at a stable price point but with a little imagination you can experiment with different products to create your own unique style.

Peanut butter from the supermarket, for example is almost exactly the same as the peanut pastes from ingredients suppliers. There’s nothing to stop you substituting one for the other.
Things like cookies can be blended into your base mix before its frozen to create a unique biscuit flavoured gelato which can then have whole cookies crumbled through it when its being dispensed into your Napoli. Oreo type cookies are particularly good for this.

Fresh fruit can be used to flavour your dairy gelato, but you need to be careful to balance the additional water content with some extra sugar otherwise you risk creating an icy textured product. Fresh fruits are seasonally temperamental and inconsistent which will create a slightly inconsistent finished product but that can be a good thing sometimes as it shows its hand made with natural ingredients.

The key to choosing flavours is knowing who your selling your gelato to. If it’s children on the way home from school then the bubble gum flavours may prove more popular. If you’re in a trendy part of town then chic, classy flavours like balsamic strawberry and pistachio my go down better.

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Air is a crucial component of gelato. It’s referred to as overrun as it will cause your product to run over the edge of your container once its frozen… gelato typically has an overrun of 30% that means a one litre container of liquid base mix will require a container that is 1.3 litres in volume to contain the product once its frozen.

In commercial terms its 30% extra for free, but it also has valuable properties as well…

The air content creates the texture, without the air the product would be incredibly dense and would freeze rock solid. The air gives a lightness to the gelato which makes it smooth with a nice texture when it’s eaten.
It helps with the scoopability and serving of the product as well; no air and the product will be hard and difficult to serve but on the flip side too much air will make the gelato really soft and cause it to collapse really easily. Cheap ice cream is soft straight from the deep freeze as it has quite a high sugar content but usually loads of air!

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