There are more than 37,000 gelato shops in Italy. That’s a lot of gelato.
The problem is, there is real gelato and then there is tourist gelato. With this many gelaterie in the squares and corners of Italy, it’s easy to get lured into buying the fake stuff. But not all gelato is made equal. There are gelato shops try to sell you the knock-off stuff filled with artificial colours or preservatives. Real gelato is hand-crafted on the other hand, and made with all-natural ingredients.
So how can you tell real gelato from the tourist kind? Here is my guide to helping you find real Italian gelato in Italy.
When you walk into a gelateria you should look at 3 specific flavours: Pistacchio, Banana, and Mint.
Pistacchio. Let’s clear one thing up first. It’s PIS-TA-KEE-O (not pis-ta-cho). Second, this gelato should be a dull, muted, earthy green colour.
Not neon or ninja turtle green.
Banana. Have you ever eaten a banana? What colour was the part that you ate? It was definitely not yellow. Bananas are naturally off-white. If the banana flavour is bright yellow, it means it has added colour. This applies to lemon gelato too. Lemon juice when squeeze is white. Not yellow.
Mint. Mint gelato should be white. Not green. White. Because gelato makers use the essence of mint, and not the actual mint leaves.
Real gelato should be the same colour as the fruit it’s made of. If it glows in the dark, keep walking.
Big mountains, puffy clouds, and towering gelato has fake written all over it. Gelato that is piled high and made to stay up tall all day is not real. It has been whipped up with chemical stabilizers and filled with air. It looks way more enticing and Instagram-worthy but it doesn’t have the same rich and creamy texture. Real gelato is heavy in weight so it naturally stays flat and never overflows the rim of the gelato tin.
If it looks unappealing, bland, or boring it’s probably real gelato.
Artisan gelato makers only produce flavours that are in-season like berries in the spring and summer, and citrus in wintertime. If you see something that should be out of season, pick again. Or go for chocolate and coffee.
Gelato is not like store-bought ice cream. It has an expiry date! And it’s not a month (or 12 months as much as you might want it to be). It’s water or milk-based which means there are no chemicals added to “preserve” gelato beyond 3 days. If you decide to take some home to store in your freezer, know that real gelato will harden like a rock and lose its flavour and texture in just a few days.
Real gelato should be served at -15C – that’s -9 degrees warmer than ice cream. It should be silky and easily melt in your mouth.
In a real gelato shop, the gelato-makers are usually hanging around. If you still can’t tell what’s in your cone, just ask. They can tell you exactly what’s in their product.