A Home Cook’s Guide to Ice Cream

One of the many awesome things about living in the land of palm trees, sea, and sunshine is that we can eat ice cream all year round. In SoCal, it’s never too cold for a scoop. (The truth: We’ll eat ice cream anytime, anywhere. July in Shackleton’s Antarctica hut? Yep.) And thanks to the artisan food movement, our frozen dessert aisle is expanding almost weekly — there are more high quality, scrumptious ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and non-dairy frozen desserts than ever.

All that variety and invention is thrilling, but it can also be baffling to figure out what you’re buying. It’s challenging enough to pronounce sherbet (say SURE-biht, and resist the urge to add a second r), much less to figure out how it’s different from sorbet. We’re here to help, with one small warning (no, we’ll call it a tip): Reading about all of this sweet, creamy goodness will make you crave ice cream. You might as well go ahead and get a pint before you dig in!


Sorbet is made with water, honey or sugar, and a flavoring — like fruit or vegetable purée, coconut, or chocolate. It can be churned, but it has less air whipped into it than ice cream, so its texture is smooth and dense. That density contributes to its intense flavor: a very good sorbet tastes like the purest essence of its ingredients.

At home, most folks eat sorbet as a light, refreshing dairy-free dessert, but in restaurants, you’ll often see a lemon or mint sorbet used as a crisp palate cleanser between courses.

At Gelson’s, we offer Ciao Bella, Sharon's Sorbet, Häagen-Dazs, and Talenti sorbets.


Sherbet and sorbet are like those high school BFFs with identical haircuts and matching sweaters — people are always mixing them up. But sherbet has a culinary birthmark: It’s softer and creamier than sorbet because it’s made with cream and, often, egg white or gelatin. It doesn’t have a ton of cream though — less than 2% per federal regulations — which is why it tastes so similar to sorbet.

In the wilds of food blogging, one does sometimes see sherbets flavored with chocolate, carrot juice, and the like, but most sherbet comes in fruit flavors. At Gelson’s, we offer Baskin-Robbins and Dreyer’s sherbet.

Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts

Between dairy allergies, veganism, and the environmental focus on plant-based living, there’s a lot of demand for non-dairy frozen desserts, and new ones are popping up all the time. Gelson’s currently offers pints made with almond, avocado, cashew, coconut, faba bean, and pea protein. Each milk has its own texture and flavor, so non-dairy frozen desserts really lend themselves to flights — for example, trying a few in vanilla is a great way to find a new favorite.

Why do they call them frozen desserts instead of ice cream? Because, according to federal law, a frozen dessert has to be at least 10 percent cow milk fat to be called ice cream (more about that below).

At Gelson’s, we offer non-dairy frozen desserts made by: Arctic Zero, Ben & Jerry's, Cado, Frill, Halo Top, Luna & Larry's, McConnell's, NadaMoo!, So Delicious, and Van Leeuwen.

High-Protein Ice Cream

High-protein ice cream was invented for folks who like to think of a pint as a single serving. It generally comes in between 240 and 400 calories per pint. To put that in perspective, regular ice cream is somewhere around 1,000 calories. And high-protein ice creams are, in fact, packed with protein — most brands have 20 to 24 grams of the stuff.

That almost makes a pint-a-day habit sound like a healthy life choice! At Gelson’s, we offer high-protein ice cream made by: Arctic Zero, Enlightened, Halo Top, and Re:THINK.

Frozen Yogurt

Long before high-protein ice cream was even an idea, frozen yogurt was the leading light of health-conscious desserts. It’s lower in calories and fat than ice cream but still a luscious treat. At its light, airy best, it’s creamy like milk, tart like yogurt — and full of live active cultures.

At Gelson’s, we offer Stonyfield Organic and Ben & Jerry's frozen yogurt.


Although gelato means “ice cream” in Italian, it’s quite different than American ice cream. It’s made with less cream than milk, so it’s lower in fat and has a very low “overrun,” which is the amount of air whipped into the ice cream during churning (we get into this more below). That makes it dense and, like sorbet, more intensely flavorful. It also gives the gelato a lovely texture — smooth and velvety on the tongue.

Our tip: serve gelato a little warmer than you would other ice creams, so you get the full expression of its flavor and lush texture.

At Gelson’s, we offer Talenti and L'Arte del Gelato.

Ice Cream

All ice cream is made with cow’s milk, of course, but if you’re a fan of the stuff, you know that doesn’t make them all equal. In fact, the USDA divides ice cream into four categories: economy, regular, premium, and super premium.* There are two things that determine where an ice cream lands in that list: overrun and milk fat.

Overrun is the amount of air that gets whipped into the ice cream as it’s freezing. Federal regulations say that ice cream must have less than 100 percent overrun — that means it’s less than 50 percent air.

Milk fat and overrun go hand in hand. Ice creams with lower overrun, or less air, have more milk fat, so they’re richer, creamier, and more flavorful. This is a helpful thing to know when you’re exploring ice creams. Here are some of the categories we carry:

Regular Ice Cream

On average, regular ice creams hover just under 100 percent overrun, and they’re about 10 to 12 percent milk fat. Ice creams in this category will have a light, fluffy quality — and they’ll also be a bit less expensive.

At Gelson’s, we offer a few brands of regular ice cream, including Dreyer’s, Breyers, Baskin-Robbins, Alden's Organic, and Tillamook.

Premium Ice Cream

Premium ice cream will have an overrun of less than 50 percent. That’s quite a difference, and you can feel it when you pick up a pint or carton — it’ll be heavier. It’ll be tastier too: these ice creams have 12 to 14 percent milk fat, so they’re dense, flavorful, and have a creamier mouthfeel.

At Gelson’s, we offer Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, and Keto Pint premium ice cream.

Super Premium Ice Cream

This is the pinnacle! Super premium ice creams have an overrun of 15 to 20 percent, which puts them closer to gelato. But they have a lot more milk fat than gelato — about 14 to 18 percent — so they’re super rich and creamy and have a sublimely silky mouthfeel.

At Gelson’s, we’re proud of our super premium ice cream offering, which includes McConnell's, Jeni's, Coolhaus, Straus, and Humphry Slocombe.

*The USDA establishes the standard categories, but it doesn’t enforce them, so ice cream producers and sellers can categorize their ice creams however they like. That makes this system an inexact science.