Although the date and person who invented gelato isn’t confirmed as fact, Italian chef Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli is credited with the invention of Gelato. In the late 17th century, he opened Café Procope in Paris and introduced this frozen dessert. Chef Francesco was granted French citizenship and an exclusive royal license by King Louis XIV, making him the sole producer of Gelato in the kingdom.
Nowadays, Gelato has gained massively in popularity amongst consumers. However, Italy is the only country in the world where the market share of artisanal gelato versus mass-produced gelato is over 55% with more than 5000 ice cream parlors.
Does Gelato Have Dairy? Yes, Gelato does have dairy products such as milk and cream in its original recipe. It can never be dairy-free. The frozen desserts that do not contain dairy cannot be labeled as Gelato.
In general, gelato flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, etc., have milk or another dairy product as an ingredient. Flavors that are more fruit-based, such as raspberry, strawberry, apple, can be made without dairy products by using concentrated syrups or fruit purees.
A lot depends on the definition of the dessert itself, as non-dairy based frozen desserts may be called by another name and not necessarily gelato, especially when considering artisanal or hand-made gelato as opposed to mass-produced variants.
For example, gelato is the name given for a frozen dessert that includes dairy products such as cream, sugar, etc. However, Italian Ice is the name of a frozen dessert from either concentrated syrup or fruit purees on ice.
Vegan Desserts and Alternatives:
Nowadays, we live in an era of veganism, where people realize the health benefits of having a plant-based diet. How does a person, who loves ice cream or gelato, get to enjoy their frozen dessert without breaking their special dietary plan?
Well, there are commercial ice cream and gelato makers, who have introduced a non-dairy version of their products to cater to people with special diets. This allows them to make sure that no potential customer or consumer is left out due to the ingredients used.
Further, it should be noted that an estimated 70% of adults worldwide are intolerant to lactose, a type of sugar naturally found in dairy products. This is because the body does not naturally produce the enzyme lactase, which can break down the sugar lactose to make it easily digestible.
Currently, the lactose-free market is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, which means that the industry has had to come up with creative alternatives and dairy-free desserts.
Some of the options available to commercial brands would include:
Dairy Ice cream without lactose
Essentially this is a lactose-free dairy ice cream made by adding a synthetic lactase enzyme into dairy milk, which helps break down the lactose. Alternatively, some manufacturers filter lactose out of the milk or dairy product used in the dessert.
Dairy-free Ice cream / Gelato
As mentioned earlier, there are many commercial manufacturers who have introduced dairy-free ice cream or gelato into their product line.
An example of such a product would be the dairy-free chocolate fudge brownie from Ben & Jerry’s, which uses almond milk!
Fruit-based frozen desserts
As briefly touched upon earlier, an option available to manufacturers and smaller ice cream/gelato parlors is fruit-based frozen desserts. These are lactose-free and do not use dairy products.
This would be fruit-based desserts such as a banana, for example, or other exciting flavors such as passion fruit!
The point we are trying to reach is that the name given to a dessert changes with the ingredients that are usually linked to that dish.
For example, a sorbet is a naturally lactose-free dessert that is typically made from water, fruit juice, or a puree.
Sherbet, however, does have dairy, milk, or cream as an ingredient.
In the case of gelato, manufacturers have found ways to make gelato without dairy by taking advantage of alternative ingredients. Alternative ingredients such as coconut oil and egg yolk can be used to create the creaminess without using dairy or milk.
Therefore, depending on where we are, a non-dairy gelato might actually simply be a sorbet and will explicitly state “dairy-free” or “Lactose-free” on its label for vegans with a craving for a frozen dessert.
One should note, however, that “Lactose-free” might just mean free of the sugar itself and not so much the absence of dairy. The product itself and it would be wise to research the product itself before consumption. Another option, as mentioned, would be if the gelato is fruit-flavored, in which case, milk may not be used.
Hand-made Gelato Parlors
Besides, hand-made gelato always uses some form of dairy products such as milk and cream. That is, the parlors in Italy definitely use milk while the larger brands or manufacturers are able to produce entire product lines in more significant amounts.
The smaller parlors, therefore, tend to provide a varied menu that might include the aforementioned sorbets or fruit-flavored gelatos.
Larger well-known brands with dairy-free product lines would include the likes of Ben & Jerry’s P.B. & Cookies, which has an almond-base (people with allergic reactions to nuts, might do well to take note of the ingredients used) while being dairy-free and vegan.
Another option from Ben & Jerry’s is its’ “Chunky Monky” that has a flavor of bananas on an Almond base, hence making it dairy-free.
Similarly, Nadamoo Cookies & Crème is a dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan frozen dessert with a coconut base.
Also, for those of us who want a lactose-free frozen dessert, gelato, and ice cream, parlors in countries like Italy try to cater to those needs by offering alternative frozen desserts such as granitas, ice lollies, and sorbets.
Conclusion: Does Gelato Have Dairy?
To summarize, gelato inherently includes dairy products such as milk and cream as ingredients. Those frozen desserts that do not contain dairy aren’t necessarily called “gelato” but may rather be a “sorbet” or “Italian Ice.”
Additionally, larger brands and manufacturers have come up with creative ways to make dairy-free desserts by using technology or with the help of alternative ingredients such as coconut oil, soy, egg yolk, etc., so that consumers are able to enjoy their frozen desserts with almost no difference in taste to “authentic gelato.”
As mentioned earlier in this article, this may include the process of artificially inserting lactase to help break down the sugar lactose or with alternative bases such as almonds and other nuts.
It is imperative for consumers to confirm the ingredients used in the dessert they purchase, so as to avoid any adverse effects such as an allergic reaction!
Further, we would advise all frozen dessert lovers to keep in mind that they can opt for other items on the menu, especially when visiting a local gelato parlor or an ice cream parlor. This is because traditional parlors in countries like Italy, always include dairy in their hand-made gelato.
We are confident that whichever dessert the consumer craves, he or she will probably find a dairy-free version or, at the very least, have alternative items on the menu to choose from.
Having said that, remember that these desserts (as tasty as they might be!) do use a lot of sugar and other ingredients that might not be healthy in larger volumes, and we recommend that they are consumed in moderation.