Is Gelato Dairy Free?

Everyone loves a sweet treat, some more than others, and most people have a sweet treat vice.

These vices are the sweets that you would happily gorge yourself on with abandon given the opportunity, and would happily do again at a moment’s notice in the future.

For some this is cakes and especially chocolate cakes, for others this is gummy sweets, and for others still this is ice cream.

If you are the type of person to gorge yourself on ice cream, then we salute you, but we bet you also know of the most decadent and beloved of ice creams, that of the gelato.

However, if you are dairy-free, you probably need to take a pause and think. Is gelato dairy free?

A lot of ice creams aren’t, so wouldn’t gelato also have dairy? In this article, we explore gelato and see whether it is dairy free or not.

What Is Gelato?

Gelato technically is just the common Italian word for ice cream, but in a broader sense it holds many more connotations.

The type of ice cream that is produced in Italy and called gelato is generally quite artisanal for one, has less butterfat – between 6% to 9% – and contains 35% more air.

What this produces is an incredibly light and almost whipped product that is smooth and creamy.

Gelatos in general also tend to have a lot more flavoring than other ice creams, with them tasting more like the product that they are named after than other ice creams – like strawberry gelato tastes more like strawberries than regular strawberry ice cream.

This gives gelatos a distinctive texture and flavor, which makes them different from regular ice cream, which is thicker and more solid.

Gelato has actually been around for a long period of time, with the seeds of its production happening between the 1500s and 1600s.

But it wasn’t until 1565 that Bernardo Buontalenti produced the first gelato alla crema, the precursor to the Florentine gelato and the first produced Italian ice cream.

By the 1600s, ice cream had begun to spread and Francesco Procopio del Coltelli brought his grandfather’s gelato making machine to Paris.

By the 1900s, the gelato had made its way across the Atlantic and all the way to America, with Emery Thompson credited as building the first automated ice cream machine.

Is Gelato Dairy-Free?

Absolutely not. Do not eat gelato if you medically need to eat a dairy free diet. Gelato contains both milk and cream, with both these products being derived from cow’s milk.

Since people who need to be or are dairy free can’t eat any products that are derived from the milk of an animal, that means gelato is off limits.

In fact, it might be one of the worst foods to eat if you are dairy free, as it is almost 50% lactose in its nutritional makeup and considering the dairy intolerance is actually a lactose intolerance, this is very bad.

If you are looking for an iced treat like gelato or ice cream to satisfy your palate while you are dairy free, then the best bet would be to eat a sorbet.

Sorbet is crushed ice that has been heavily flavored with berries and juice. It is not the same as gelato, but it is a good way to enjoy a cool treat in the summer.

Another thing you could do is to search out for dairy free or lactose free gelatos, but this might be difficult to do, as gelato is not as ubiquitous as ice cream – which has many lactose free options – and it is made in a particular way that might lend itself to being frozen well.

What Is The Difference Between Gelato And Ice Cream?

There are a few differences between gelato and American ice cream, and some of them may actually be quite surprising. The first is the ingredients.

Gelato is generally made from milk, a few egg yolks, cream, and the flavor that is being added to it. American ice cream on the other hand is made from whole milk, heavy cream, and a lot of egg yolks.

This difference means that gelato is lighter and more focused on the added flavoring, while the American ice cream focuses a lot on the taste of the cream with the flavoring.

This also means that gelato is a lot lower in butterfat than the American version, only having between 6% to 9%, whereas American ice cream has 14% to 25% butterfat.

Another difference is that gelato is much denser than American ice cream, which seems weird to say considering how solid it is, but hear us out.

American ice cream is churned much more than gelato, and so tends to have far more air churned into it. 50% of American ice cream is air, whereas only 20% to 30% of gelato is air.

This is also the reason why gelato can be kept at a warmer temperature than ice cream, between 10 and 15 degrees warmer in fact.

Due to the ingredients being more incorporated and having less air, gelato develops a smoother texture at these temperatures, whereas ice cream melts away in your hands.

The final difference between these two dessert treats is how they are produced. Gelato generally has to be produced in what’s called a laboratory, and it needs a pasteurizer, a batch freezer specific for gelato making, and an immersion blender.

Whereas ice cream can be produced with as a little as just a few continuous freezers.

As such, it is a little bit more expensive and harder to produce gelato for commercial use in the modern day.


Gelato is a wonderful and delicious food that most people deeply love, but it is certainly not dairy free in the least bit. For starters, it is mostly filled with dairy ingredients, like cream and milk.

The heavy amount of lactose, the way it is made, and difficulty in making it mean that you are unlikely to find any dairy free gelato soon.

Jenna Priestly
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