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  • Writer's pictureLeah Sacks

Summer sweets and tasty treats

This blog post was inspired by my roommate's desire to order ice cream in the dead of winter. I sympathize with her and have ordered ice cream myself in the middle of winter many times. But I have recently been ordering frozen yogurt and as we went on to speak about gelato and sorbet it occurred to me that I should look into the true difference between many of these delicious frozen desserts. What follows is the results of my investigation. It turns out that many a blog and book have discussed these differences. Much of this information comes from outside sources (posted at the bottom) and I have to say that while I've just taken a dip into these sources for this post, they look worth a deeper read in the future. As a side note, with great power comes great responsibility, use this information for fantastic frozen fun.

Ice Cream

Right off the bat we have to address the common ice cream. This is generally the ice cream you buy in a store or get on a sugar cone from a local cafe. In America, ice-cream by definition must have greater than 10% milk fat, 20% milk solids, and weigh more than 0.54 kg/liter. These contents lend themselves to the name, containing the word cream, as cream is, according to Oxford Languages English Dictionary, "the thick white or pale yellow fatty liquid which rises to the top when milk is left to stand and which can be eaten as an accompaniment to desserts or used as a cooking ingredient." Really good, extra delicious ice cream has higher fat content and less air, while cheaper ice cream has more air and less of the "cream." Ice cream is made from churned, "agitate[d] or turn[ed] (milk or cream) in a machine" ingredients and widely produced for people across the world.

It turns out a lot of work goes into producing ice cream and from a scientific perspective, ice cream science may be one of the most interdisciplinary fields.

The sciences involved in making ice cream. Figure from "The Science of Ice Cream" by Chris Clarke.

Ice cream also has a complex history that has developed over time from mixing various things with snow or ice, to the mass-produced, sugar-rich confection we eat today. Unfortunately, there is way too much for me to cover, but I might look at it more for a later blog post. If I write a post in the future, I will link it here. But in the mean time, on to our next tasty treat.

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt differs from ice cream in much the same way that yogurt differs from cream. This tasty treat is made using live cultures, organisms, in pasteurized milk. There is quite literally no cream in the dessert at all. The name "yogurt" comes from the turkish word yoğurmak which basically means "thickened, curdled, or coagulated." Specific varieties of frozen yogurt have also been made that do not use dairy milk at all, making it often a good option for those with dietary restrictions. Frozen yogurt is also often considered the low-calorie version of a frozen dessert. This can certainly be true, but each type/brand of frozen yogurt, ice cream, or other frozen treat needs to be assessed individually for its benefits and downfalls, as there is too much variety across types.

Many people attribute frozen yogurt's beginning to H. P. Hood and his product "frogurt" which was a more fluid "soft-serve"type dessert, available in the 1970's. Frozen yogurt has been making a comeback and has recently gained a lot of popularity, possibly due to its potential health values in comparison to ice cream. Frozen yogurt is now available at specific frozen yogurt parlors and stores, and even early companies bought into the likelihood of high future value related to the healthier contents.

The history of frozen yogurt is intimately tied with yogurt itself and carries many of the same myths and legends as ice cream. Again, further research may be necessary.


Gelato is thought to originate in the 14th century renaissance-era time in Italy, and then was later brought to America in the 70's. Gelato is made mostly of milk but often contains eggs as well. Compared to ice cream, it is much lower in fat content, as are no requirements on the fat content in gelato. Gelato is also made in a slower mixing process that doesn't involve the "fluffing up" that happens when churning ice cream. There is consequently much less air in gelato and much less cream (lower fat content) which together give gelato its much denser texture (compared to ice cream). If you have ever gone to get gelato in a shop or a cafe, you may have noticed the elaborate displays of the gelato that is never seen with ice cream. This is largely due to the different required temperatures for ice cream and gelato for maintaining a solid state. Ice cream melts at a lower temperature and generally needs to be kept at about -22 degrees Celsius while gelato only needs to be kept at around -12 degrees Celsius. This difference enables the dramatic displays of gelato flavors.

Gelato flavors. Image from Wikimedia Commons Contributor Lasagnolo9. Link to license is below.


When gelato made its debut in America, coming over from Italy, so too did its close relation: sorbetto. Also known as sorbet. Sorbet is similar to gelato and ice cream in some ways, but has very important distinctions. Specifically, sorbet is made from sugar syrup, water, and fruit rather than cream or milk and eggs. Much like frozen yogurt, this makes sorbet a very popular option for those with dietary restrictions. As it lacks milk and milk fat entirely, this option is the least fatty of those discussed in this post, but it is not necessarily the lowest in calories, due to the sugar content. It also means that sorbet is even more dense than gelato. It is churned slowly, like gelato, and doesn't have lots of air incorporated the way ice cream does, so it has nothing to fluff it up, resulting in very dense dessert. However, in comparison, it is kept colder than gelato due to its components.

Picture of sorbet (sorbet) flavors from Wikimedia Commons contributor Ragesoss. License is linked below.

Sherbet (Pronounced sher-bit) (There is no second R)

Sherbet is the last tasty treat in this post. This poor cousin of sorbet is actually often confused with sorbet or considered to be the same. But it's not! It is actually the halfway stop between sorbet and gelato. Sherbet by definition has a little bit of milk fat and milk in it, much like gelato, but also the fruit and water components that are integral to sorbet. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, "[t]he word sherbet derives from the Persian sharbat, an iced fruit drink; iced desserts were introduced to the West via the Middle East."

Sherbet. Image retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica, credit to Renee Comet, National Cancer Institute. Link to image is below.

Summary and Ternary

I'm a very visual learner. I pretty much try to visualize most material that I learn about. As a geologist, this is conducive to learning skills and processes associated with the field. Consequently, as I researched these varieties of summer sweets, I tried to visualize their relationship to each other. The result, as a geologist, was a ternary diagram. See the figure I created below! Blue points represent each type of treat while the corners of the triangle show the end members. Being on a point of the triangle means that that treat's main consituent is that corner of the triangle. The farther from that point of the triangle, the less that component is part of that treat.

Tasty Treats Ternary. Blue points are types of treats, green corners are end-members or components of those treats.

Hope this breakdown of frosted favorites is helpful and for those visual learners, this figure is the key.

Websites and blogs that I looked at and pulled information from:

Books/Encyclopedias I Used:

Clarke, C., 2015. The science of ice cream. Royal Society of Chemistry.

Hersh, J., 2021. Yoghurt: A Global History. Reaktion Books.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. 2011, January 28. Sherbet. Encyclopedia Britannica.

This has been my favorite blog post yet.

Sneak peak for next post: New Horizons? i-Phone photography? Space Law? We'll see.....

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