Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Real Deal: Gelato Exposed

"You can't buy joy, you CAN buy gelato!" ~ Unknown

Gelato, a staple of the Italian culture, is an everyday indulgence for the students studying abroad in our program as well as tourists from around the world. Gelato shops are everywhere you turn in Italy, making the choices seem endless. However, what many people don't realize is that a lot of the gelato out there, up to 80 percent in Rome, is fake! You know it when you see it. If it LOOKS too good to be true, it probably is. This impostor gelato is a trap for tourists who are drawn in by the brightly colored, fluffed up, fruit-garnished mounds in the window. The task might seem daunting, but a few helpful tricks can help you to spot genuine, homemade, all-natural gelato and avoid the counterfeits.

Real or fake? You be the judge!

1. Observe the color

Neon colored gelato is not natural. In general, look for light, muted colors. Red flag flavors include Mint, Banana and Pistachio. Pistachio should have an earthy-green tone, Mint should be white, and Banana should be a light crème color. 

2. Evaluate the Shape

If gelato is presented in heaping mounds then it is fake. This fake gelato is puffed up with air and holds it's shape thanks to chemical additives. One of the best qualities of "real" gelato is the thickness. It is made using a slow churning process that results in less air content than it's counterpart, ice-cream, which is whipped. Real gelato should lay flat in the container.

Triple scoop: Coffee, Mint, and Dark Chocolate

3. Consider the seasonality of fruits 

To be sure that you are getting the best product possible, take a close look at the gelato shop's selection of fruit flavors. Different fruits are in season during different times of the year. You do not have to have a background in Horticulture to observe what is sold in supermarkets during different times of the year. If you cannot find a locally grown product on the store shelf, then the gelato maker cannot either. If fruit flavors are available out of season, they are either fake mixes or made from fruit that was shipped from halfway around the globe. 

4. Spot the ingredients list

Roman law mandates that gelato shops post an ingredient list in their stores. The ingredients labeled E140 and E141 are natural additives, but other coded additives beginning with E and followed by a number are artificial. Even if you are not in Rome, check for a posted list or ask to see one. It is a red flag if one is unavailable or hidden.

Vanilla and Chocolate already starting to melt!

In addition to finding the "real deal," it is important to know what to order. In Rome the gelato shops are required to give the customer two flavors if they ask, no matter what size. Your flavor combination can actually be denied, however, if the flavors do not pair well.

Do not let dietary concerns prevent you from enjoying a cone every week, everyday, or even after every meal! Gelato is actually a much healthier alternative to ice cream. Gelato has two to three  times fewer the fat content of ice cream because it is made from milk instead of crème. It only contains a minimum of two to three percent butterfat compared to the ten percent that is found in ice cream. 

I recommend trying many flavors and combinations until you know what you like the best. My top choices are coffee/dark chocolate, mint/chocolate, and lemon/frutti di bosco (mixed berry). Some flavors are stronger than others and should be paired with a more subtle flavor for balance.

Frutti di Bosco is delicious at the "100% Gelato" shop in Castiglion Fiorentino!

"Real" gelato is diet friendly, delicious, and an entirely Italian cultural tradition. Absolutely do not miss out on the flavor experience of gelato next time you find yourself in Italy! 

Ciao for the last time from Italia!


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