Gelato is one of the most loved desserts in the history of humankind but just like every Italian recipe, Gelato has a long history too.
People believe that Marco Polo is the one who brought ice-cream to Italy from China. It is assumed that both China and Persia were among the first cultures that developed a dessert made from fruit juice and mountain snow/shaved snow. However, China is one of the first countries where Ice-cream making practices were developed by adding rock salt to make it hard. Initially, the ice-cream wasn't ice-cream at all because there was no milk or cream included in the recipe. It was more of Italian ice topped with flavours.
SORBETTO, GRANITA AND ITALIAN ICE
All three are more ice and flavourings rather than real ice cream and have been long enjoyed in the ancient world. The Arabs used mountain snow and fruit juices to make Sharbat, the ancestor to Italy’s Sorbetto and known elsewhere as sorbet or, indeed, sherbet.
Marco Polo may have introduced ice-cream but Italy is said to have played an important role in introducing frozen desserts to Europe. In the ancient world, people used to enjoy Sorbetto, Granita and Italian Ice long before cream/milk was added to their desserts.
It is in Sicily that a dessert made of ice, sugar and flavourings, known as Granita, was created. Popular in the whole country now, granita is probably the closest thing to the original sharbat as it has a more slush-like consistency than sorbetto. Today, commercial sorbetto can contain small amounts of milk, but many are still made only with fruit juice or syrups and ice: this is what in America is known as “Italian Ice”.
During the Renaissance period, frozen desserts became very popular in Europe because of France. However, one individual who is supposed to be thanked for Sorbet is Caterina de Medici, a lover of good food. She brought along a troupe of her chefs from Florence to Paris, and because of them, Sorbets were offered in desserts after dinners.
Near Bologna, there is a museum completely dedicated to it: the Gelato Museum Carpigiani in Anzola Emilia. And if this wasn’t enough to convince you, there is a number that speaks louder than 1000 words: the per capita consumption of this delicious food in Italy touches almost 4 kg per year. Considering Italians generally eat gelato only in summer, this number is even more impressive.
It was much later when the cream was added to the desserts to make it rich and smooth. Just like Pizza, the credit of making true Ice-cream made up of cream goes to Neapolitans. Once it was introduced to the world, every country wanted to put the stamp on it with Italy creating Gelato version. Gelato and Ice-cream are the same yet different. They have similar properties yet different feels. Gelato is creamier and rich because it is churned slower than ice-cream. Italy may not be the one to introduce ice-cream but it has been way more creative with the dessert than any other country.
Ice-cream lovers will find themselves falling in love with the flavours of Gelato. Gelateria in Italy serves classic flavours such as vanilla (vaniglia) and chocolate (cioccolato), but other common flavours include hazelnut (nocciola), stracciatella (vanilla gelato with crunchy chocolate pieces), yoghurt, Nutella, tiramisu, pistachio, coffee (caffè), and Amarena (vanilla gelato with cherries). Also, you can go for fruit – flavoured Gelatos made up of little cream/milk such as apple (mela), strawberry (fragola), melon (Melone), pineapple (ananas), raspberry (lampone), and peach (Pesca).
Does this make you want to visit Italy and savour the taste of Gelato already?