How To Choose The Best Gelato

When I explored the food culture of Italy, one of the lessons I learned is: Not all gelatos are created equal. Before my Europe trip, I remember eating expensive “gelatos” in Manila, thinking they were all the real deal.

Not so, said the locals I met in Italy. There are five simple ways to suss out authentic artisan gelato from cheap, commercialized ones.

1. If it’s too high, it’s too good to be true.

The higher the tower, the more likely it’s fake. Gelato will only remain that high and compact if it’s filled with unnatural ingredients and preservatives. Real gelato has a simple base of milk and sugar (not all gelatos use eggs yolks), which means it’s meant to stay low and not towering above the pan. Real gelato is naturally creamy, so when it’s in your cone or cup, it stays low and melts faster than artificial versions. I needed to unlearn my American ways and realize that a towering ice cream cone isn’t always the best.

Bad gelato! Too high. Must be full of preservatives and additives.

Good gelato! Not too high. This is the famous Gelateria Dondoli located in central Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano.

2. It’s not as frozen.

There’s a reason why gelato is extracted with a flat metal spade or spatula, and not a scoop. Gelato is a few degrees warmer than standard commercial ice cream. It’s creamier and less frozen, so there’s no need to muscle up and scoop it.

The best gelato actually drips and melts faster than regular ice cream.

3. Look for natural colors and ingredients.

Just because it’s pistachio-flavored doesn’t mean it has to be as green as Shrek. If the color is too bright or saturated for the sake of fitting the flavor name, then you’re ingesting lots of artificial food coloring. I once saw a blue gelato tower with toy Smurfs and colored marshmallows on top. Yep, that was definitely a sign of artificial good(bad)ness! Natural ingredients mean no excessive food coloring. Many gelato shops proudly display and label the ingredients, so read before you purchase.

Gelateria in Spain. Ingredients of the blue gelato: sugar, milk, egg yolks, lots of food coloring, and the souls of two dead Smurfs.

4. It shouldn’t be too expensive.

Around Italy, the standard price for gelato is €1-2 per scoop. If you’re getting charged higher than that, you’re being duped. Gelato is a common treat around Italy, so even the best gelatos shouldn’t be pricey.

Firenze, Florence—I found this gelateria that ticks everything off the list. Gelateria Santa Croce’s prices are just right, and you’re getting authentic gelatos.

5. It must be the star of the shop.

Authentic gelato shops must focus on selling one main thing—gelato. Local tour guides told me that if it’s part of a pizzeria, restaurant, or worse, a bar, then it’s most likely not genuine gelato. Choose the little shops that focus only on gelato.

If you’re in San Gimigiano and you ask the locals where to get the best gelato in the area, they’ll point you to Gelateria Dondoli.

With my newfound discerning taste, I spent a good chunk of my Italian stop on gelatos that count—three to five scoops a day. Buon gelato!

My Nth gelato stop in Rome, Italy. The difference between American ice cream and Italian gelato is that the latter is creamier, smoother, denser, and silkier. Both gelato and ice cream have cream, milk, and sugar, but real gelato uses less cream and more milk. Best of all, gelato has less fat—the perfect excuse to eat more of it.

Resources (aside from the locals I met):
Food Network
Visit Tuscany
Huff Post Life