In America, we all love ice cream. But in Italy, gelato is where it's at. When I studied abroad this past summer in Florence, there was a different gelato shop almost everywhere I looked. They're more prominent than McDonald's in America. I enjoyed gelato almost everyday while I was in Italy (the slight weight gain was totally worth it); but while I definitely knew that it tasted good, there's a lot I didn't know about the precious stuff. So, I've decided to do a little research and make a guide for my fellow gelato lovers on everything you need to know about possibly the best dessert known to mankind


Gelato, and all other frozen desserts, can date back all the way to the ancient Romans and Egyptians. They made frozen treats from preserved ice and snow from nearby mountains. Probably not nearly as good as the gelato we have today, but we had to start somewhere. 

The first modern-day gelato was developed in the 16th century when a chef in Florence named Bernardo Buontalenti came up with a way to keep his frozen desserts cold. The Italian Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli is credited with the first gelato shop for the public, Café Procope, which was opened in Paris in 1686. Meanwhile in Italy, the art of gelato making was passed down from fathers to sons until it was perfected. In the 20th century, many of these pristine gelato makers made their way across Europe, spreading the frozen treat from country to country.


In Italian, the word "gelato" translates to "frozen". So actually, it can be used to refer to more than just the Italian version of ice cream, but that's typically what we Americans think of when we hear the word. 

The difference between gelato and ice cream 

ice cream, ice, cream, buttercream, cake, cupcake
Lauren Kruchten

This question has been boggling my mind ever since I had my first bite of gelato in Italy. It's so much better than ice cream; but why!? Gelato is made with the same custard base as ice cream - milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks - but with a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all). It's churned slower than ice cream, making it denser and more silky. The best part is that since gelato is made with a lower percentage of fat and sugar than ice cream, it's healthier, meaning you can eat more, right? 

Gelato in Italy

Like I said, there are thousands of gelato shops in and around Italy. In Italy these shops are commonly referred to as a "gelateria". Touristy gelato shops are to be avoided over the authentic ones of course. A good tip: steer away from gelaterie with mountain-high gelato displays, as these are often made with artificial ingredients. 

Popular flavors

Most traditional gelato shops will stick to the classic and in-season flavors, but you'll definitely come across some extravagant kinds as well. Of course there are the typical vanilla (vaniglia) and chocolate (cioccolato), but other common flavors in Italian gelato shops include hazelnut (nocciola), stracciatella (vanilla gelato with crunchy chocolate pieces), yogurt, Nutella, tiramisu, pistachio, coffee (caffè), and my personal favorite, amarena (vanilla gelato with cherries). 

The fruit-flavored gelatos are typically made with very little dairy, giving them the consistency of sorbet. These come in a plethora of flavors as well, including apple (mela), strawberry (fragola), melon (melone), pineapple (ananas), raspberry (lampone), and peach (pesca). 

Finally, you have the oddball flavors, which vary from shop to shop. Many of the shops I went to in Italy had their own signature flavor named after the shop, which were usually pretty darn good if I do say so something. One shop I went to had a black sesame flavor (sesame nero), that was grey but actually tasted very sweet. Zuppa inglese, which translates to "English soup" is similar to what we'd know as a trifle, with a cream base flavored with a sweet wine and cookie bits throughout. 

Where to get it

ice, cake, cream, ice cream
Lauren Kruchten

Although I only stayed in Florence for a month, I was able to scout out a few gelato shops that really knocked my socks off. Just down the block from my apartment and on the south side of the Ponte Santa Trinita was Gelateria Santa Trinita. This place was probably my favorite out of all the shops I went to. I probably went about a dozen times, but who's counting? Other favorites are Gelateria La Carraia, Festival del Gelato, Gelato Ti Amor (in Cortona), and Antica Gelateria Fiorentina. 

For more great gelato spots in Florence, click here