Ice Cream Anyone?

Ever wondered about the differences between types of ice cream? From soft serve to gelato, we’re breaking it down.

Hard Ice cream

This traditional ice cream is made with cream and/or milk, sugar, stabilizers* and may contain eggs. Ice cream must have at least 10% Milk Fat (or 8% Milk Fat if it has cocoa or chocolate syrup added to it). Premium ice cream is usually higher in fat, around 16% Milk Fat. It comes in endless flavours…but who doesn’t love vanilla?

Soft Ice Cream

This ice cream is made with milk and/or cream, sugar, stabilizers* and can be found in many flavours. The soft, smooth, creamy texture is achieved by freezing the ice cream in a special machine at a higher temperature. The ice cream is stored in the machine as a liquid ice cream mix and frozen as it’s served into a cone or bowl. Soft ice cream is usually only available at restaurants and specialty ice cream shops.

Italian-Style Gelato

This Italian-style dessert is a dense ice cream often made with more milk than cream, fewer egg yolks, sugar or other sweeteners, and flavourings. Gelato has a more intense flavour than traditional ice cream and a more milky texture. It also has less air as it is churned at a much slower speed.  In Italy, gelato is made differently depending on the region. In Southern Italy, gelato is lighter, egg-free and made with milk, cornstarch stabilizers, and fruit. In Northern Italy, it is richer, and contains both cream and eggs.

Frozen Dairy Dessert

Dairy dessert is made with ingredients derived from milk (such as cream, skim milk powder and whey powder), sugar or artificial/natural sweeteners, and stabilizers*. It is lower in fat than ice cream.

Sherbet is a frozen dairy dessert made primarily with fruit juice, water, sugar. It has no more than 3-5% milk solids, including milk fat.

Frozen Dessert

Frozen desserts are made with oils like palm kernel or coconut oil and don’t contain the nutrients naturally found in milk. Check the label and look for the 100% Canadian milk symbol. If it doesn’t say ice cream on the package, it’s not ice cream.

*Stabilizers are added to the ice cream mixture to keep the ice crystals small and evenly dispersed and provide a creamy texture to the frozen product. Some stabilizers used in commercial ice creams are: guar gum (flour from a bean seed) and locust bean gum (gum from the carob tree).


  • To be sure you’re buying ice cream, check the label for the 100% Canadian milk symbol. The symbol means the ice cream is made from 100% Canadian milk, which may include ingredients derived from milk.
  • Does your ice cream container feel light for its size? If yes, it has more overrun, which means it has more air whipped into it when it is made. A container of higher-quality ice cream with less overrun feels heavy, and the ice cream inside is more dense and rich. The amount of overrun isn’t declared on the label so always check the weight of the container.

Also check out our tips on how to store ice cream.

Adapted from Dairy Farmers of Canada

About BC Dairy

BC Dairy is a not-for-profit organization representing BC’s dairy farmers.