Ice Cream Vs Gelato

Ice Cream versus Gelato

Ice cream is a universal and innocent food. No, don’t talk about chocolate. Chocolate has a naughty side. Ice cream is a family entertainer, the gastronomic equivalent of a Barjatya film.

On a floodlit tennis court at the Cricket Club of India, father and teenaged son play a furious set. After all, at stake is a cup of chocolate fudge ice cream. At a home in central Mumbai, a mother and a grown-up daughter attack a tub of tender coconut and talk. A pregnant woman in Andheri craves the mango flavour. The husband, about to leave for office, not just orders the ice cream but waits till it arrives, and together with the wife, polishes off the beast, work be damned. In a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Timothy McVeigh has his last meal—two pints of mint and chocolate chip.

Now, why bring that up? Why remind people of ice cream’s accidental brush with a mass murderer? Because, seen alongside McVeigh’s evil, the wholesomeness of ice cream becomes even more striking.

Indians don’t eat a lot of ice cream. The per capita consumption is 300 ml. But we do love it. Santosh Desai, an advertising man and ice cream aficionado who wrote a memorable piece on ice cream in The Times of India, says that though we may not eat it much, we certainly are emotional about it.

TR BijuMenon is a young Keralite who is city manager, Pan India Food Solutions Pvt Ltd. The company runs Gelato Italiano brand of gelatos, an Italian variety of ice cream that Indians are taking to. In his Compaq laptop, Biju carries a study of personality types and their favouriteflavours. The analysis has been done by Italian specialists. From the study we learn that the ‘flirtatious and charming’ would prefer cinnamon, passion fruit, amaretto and forest berries. (Other categories of consumers will have to wait. As yet there is no survey on the preferred flavours of, say, bearded people.)

In the Italian coastal town of SestriLevante, Costanzo Malato has one eye on another seaside spot, Bandra’s Carter Road. This is where Amore has its flagship gelato outlet. Malato is a technical director with Amore, which launched an organic range of flavours a few weeks ago. Amore recently opened an outlet in Surat, Gujarat.

Gujarat is also the home of Amul, the dairy behemoth which leads the Rs 800 crore branded ice cream industry with a 38 per cent market share. Outwardly, it may smirk at the Italian challenger that has shown the temerity to enter its den. It may laugh at the ‘BuonGiorno’ greetings that Amore staffers offer customers. At the same time, Amul is staying on the ball. A year ago, it launched parlours. It has also bolstered its Indian-flavour portfolio, with options like Raj Bhog which Gujarati clients flip over. An Amul outlet in Mahim, Mumbai, was even selling an MNS Gadbadflavour. This seemed like the franchisee’s own experiment, because Sameer Nagle, Amul’s manager, sales, says the company had nothing to do with the flavour.

It is the emergence of gelatos that is the most interesting development in the ice cream and frozen desserts market. A rivalry is bubbling, even though gelatos only have a presence in India’s big cities. “There are probably only 100 gelaterias in India,” says CharanNarang, Amore’s director and general manager, Mumbai. “We are a minuscule industry, but the potential is high.” A rivalry is rising even though ice cream manufacturers, especially leaders like Amul or the second-placed, Hindustan Unilever owned Kwality Walls, are marketing giants compared to gelato makers.

Amul’s Sameer Nagle says, “We don’t consider gelato as ice cream. The composition is different.” When told that people do not care about technical differences and think gelato is ice cream, Nagle says, “It is a wrong impression.”

Gelato makers do not hold back the punches, despite their small size. The Amore web site says, ‘What is Gelato? Much healthier than ice cream’. It adds, albeit in brittle English, ‘Because fresh means fragile we have choose not to serve leftover gelato the next day. Ice cream on the other hand is made to last for days or even weeks on the shelf. [We shudder to think what goes into them to make them last that long] And the same Ice-cream is served for days until the box is empty.’

Both sides have their arguments down pat. The gelato industry says their product is fresher. It is also served at about -120 C, about eight degrees warmer than ice cream. This means the texture is soft and the cold does not overpower flavour. Gelato’s appeal is its low fat content. In ice cream, fat content ranges from 10 to 20 per cent. In gelatos, it is 4 to 7 per cent. In both, the figures differ according to the flavour. Variations containing chocolate or nuts are more fattening.

On its part, the ice cream industry says that its product is creamier and more satisfying. “If people have made up their mind to have dessert, they are not going to bother that much about calories,” an ice cream company employee says. Also, ice cream is widely perceived as vegetarian unlike some forms of gelatos, which contain egg. Also, quality ice cream does not have vegetable oils, which other frozen desserts do. An Amul employee says, “Our technical category is ‘ice cream’. It means we use milk fat. If a product is ‘frozen dessert’ it means they might use vegetable oils.” Ice cream companies also point to their diet and sugar free varieties to blunt the healthier-than-thou claims of gelato makers.

Purely from the taste point of view, gelatos score with their Western flavours, and yes, their lightness. So those feeling up to a chocolate or coffee flavour are likely to spend their money on gelato. But if you have just watched Mughal-E-Azam and the mood is for something rich and Indian – dry fruits or figs or saffron – you would choose ice cream. This is how it works for most of us. Then there are the niche brands that do certain flavours so well that you cannot have them anyplace else. It has to be Natural Ice Cream if custard apple or mango is what you crave.

A somewhat older generation heads to the ice cream parlour seeking something extra along with taste. Like nostalgia. “The ice cream parties of Baroda are a vivid memory,” says Desai. “We made ice cream in a pot, churning it for hours, and ate by the kilos. Every now and then, we had a few potato chips to break the monotony. Then we ate more ice cream.” Desai believes the ice cream experience has become mundane. When he does find himself in a parlour, he feels drawn to flavours like Kesar Pista, or the old-school ‘softee’. Perhaps, through these vintage flavours, he seeks to temporarily escape into a simpler time.

The younger generation, however, feels no angst. Tasneem Asgar hussein, in her 20s, says, “As a child, I often had what they called ‘Pepsi Cola’ (a sorbet packed in plastic and then sucked on). Now top brands and different varieties of ice cream and gelatos are available. Though I miss Pepsi Cola, these are good times.”