15 Types of Ice Cream You Should Try At Least Once
While its exact origins have been lost to history, ice cream has been one of humanity’s favorite treats for centuries, and there are many different types of ice cream today.
From your classic scoop of vanilla and soft serve twist to gelato and sorbet, there are various kinds of ice cream popular in different areas.
Today, I’ll take you through the sweet world of ice cream varieties, ranging from the timeless classics to some you may have never heard of.
I hope you’re hungry for a frozen dessert because this list is full of delicious treats!
1. Hard Ice Cream
When you think of ice cream, this is probably what you see in your mind’s eye.
Classic hard ice cream has the same ingredients as the second most popular type of ice cream, which is soft serve.
What differentiates the two is the amount of air and milkfat in the ice cream.
Hard ice creams contain anywhere from 10 to 18% milk fat, while soft serve is closer to 3 to 6%.
Hard ice cream also has far less air than soft serve, resulting in its more compact, dense texture.
All popular ice cream brands sell hard ice cream, from Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins to Edy’s and Turkey Hill.
Gelato is a traditional Italian frozen dessert beloved for its smooth, creamy texture.
While its exact origins are debated, most people credit Bernardo Buontalenti of Florence, Italy as the inventor of the precursor to modern gelato.
Nowadays, gelato can be found pretty much everywhere in Italy and all over the world.
Gelato gets its beloved smooth and creamy texture from its low air content, which is around 50% less than regular ice cream.
Another main difference between gelato and classic ice cream is the ingredient list.
Gelato doesn’t contain egg yolks and contains less milk fat, making for a more concentrated flavor.
This type of ice cream is usually displayed in shops in a tall, elaborate mountain of sorts and served with a spatula instead of an ice cream scoop.
Besides the obvious chocolate and vanilla, popular gelato flavors include pistachio, lemon, and stracciatella (chocolate chip).
3. Soft Serve
Soft serve is one of the most beloved kinds of ice cream.
Soft serve ice cream is almost identical ingredient-wise to classic ice cream, but it’s churned at a higher speed.
This makes for more air bubbles and a fluffier, softer texture.
Its milk fat level is around 3-6%, which is far less than regular ice cream.
Since it’s frozen at a higher temperature than regular hard ice cream, soft serve also melts much faster.
It’s served straight from the machine with no packaging required.
The person serving the ice cream must twist the cup or cone in a circular motion to create the perfect peak.
Whether or not sherbet is “technically” a type of ice cream, it’s a frozen treat that’s quite similar.
The biggest difference lies in sherbet’s base, which is fruit juice or water instead of milk.
This makes sherbet much less creamy than regular ice cream (it does still contain some dairy, though, but not nearly as much.)
To be officially considered sherbet, the dessert must contain some milk and around 1-2% milk fat.
With less fat, sherbet is icier and coarser than ice cream, making it a refreshing, light dessert option.
That being said, it’s creamier than other frozen desserts like sorbet or Italian ice.
Almost all sherbets are fruit-flavored, and popular flavors include orange, lemon, blue raspberry, and of course, rainbow!
Frozen custard might be the only treat I like just as much (if not more) than regular ice cream.
In order to be considered custard, the mixture must have at least 10% milk fat and 1.4% egg yolks by weight.
Frozen custard has only been around since 1919.
It was invented when two ice cream vendor brothers added eggs to their ice cream recipe and noticed that it didn’t melt as quickly and made the dessert creamier. (Thanks, Kohr Bros!)
Custard-making machines can churn the product without introducing much air into the custard, which is to thank for its super creamy, dense texture.
While some people use the words “sorbet” and “sherbet” interchangeably, they’re actually two different desserts.
The major difference is that sorbet doesn’t contain any dairy and is a simple mix of sugar and frozen fruit.
Sorbet is, therefore, a little icier and harder than other frozen dessert options.
Because of its simple ingredient list and lack of dairy, it’s surprisingly easy to make at home.
All you need to make sorbet is sugar syrup, lemon juice, the frozen fruit of your choice, and a blender.
Sorbet is smooth and velvety, and its lack of dairy allows the fruit flavoring to be front and center.
It’s a great dessert option for those who are vegan or dairy-free.
7. Philadelphia-Style Ice Cream
Philadelphia-style ice cream is simply ice cream sans eggs.
Traditional French-style ice cream uses a custard base with eggs and milk, while Philadelphia ice cream is made with a simple mix of milk, sugar, cream, and flavoring.
Without eggs, these ingredients make for a lighter, more airy ice cream with a velvety finish.
Philly-style ice cream is a lot softer and, as Tasting Table puts it, “perfect for those who like licking rather than biting their ice cream.”
Plus, with no egg, Philadelphia-style ice cream has a fresh cream flavor front and center.
Bonus – it’s also easier (and quicker) to make at home without eggs.
8. Frozen Yogurt
Ah, frozen yogurt. It’s just like ice cream, except slightly worse.
Just kidding, there’s definitely a time and place for froyo, and I’ve had my fair share of it. (Who could forget the boom of frozen yogurt shops in the early 2010s?)
One of the biggest appeals of froyo is that it generally has the same taste and texture as soft serve ice cream, but it contains less fat and lots of good-for-your-gut probiotics.
Frozen yogurt isn’t regulated like ice cream, so there’s no requirement for how much yogurt needs to be in a frozen dessert to be considered frozen yogurt.
Froyo’s texture is smooth but not quite as fluffy or creamy as soft-serve ice cream.
Since frozen yogurt uses cultured milk, it has a tangier flavor, but most of the tang is covered by the taste of sugar.
9. Italian Ice
Italian ice is a smooth, cold dessert traditionally made with just three ingredients: water, sugar, and juice.
After three ingredients are whipped together, they’re churned in a similar fashion to ice cream.
Despite Italian ice containing no dairy, it still has a creamy, scoopable texture.
This is because it develops small ice crystals, so there are no large chunks like you’d expect to find in a snowcone, for example.
Italian ice’s closest relative is sorbet, which also contains tiny ice crystals and no dairy.
Philadelphia natives often call Italian ice “water ice,” and while the names are interchangeable to most, “water ice” is sometimes considered a variation of Italian ice.
If you’ve ever been to Rita’s, you know exactly why everyone can’t seem to get enough of this refreshing treat!
10. Rolled Ice Cream
This fun, aesthetically pleasing ice cream started in Thailand as street food.
It exploded onto the US food scene in 2015, and I clearly remember when it started popping up everywhere in Philadelphia around 2017.
Despite its complicated looks, rolled ice cream only takes about two minutes to make.
The milk-based liquid that will eventually become ice cream is poured onto a super cold stainless steel pan and is scraped and chopped until it becomes the texture of ice cream.
Then, the ice cream mixture is scraped flat and rolled into a cylinder shape using a spatula.
Usually, add-ins are incorporated when the base is still liquid and chopped up along with the base or added on top after the rolling process is complete.
Rolled ice cream tastes very similar to regular ice cream or gelato, but the presentation is what makes it stand out.
Milkshakes are one of the most beloved types of ice cream out there.
They’re portable, easy to sip, and even creamier than ice cream alone.
This is because milkshakes are made of blended milk, ice cream, and sweet add-ins like cookies, caramel sauce, or fruits.
Milkshakes, as we know them today, originated in the late 1800s in the United States.
There are countless types of milkshakes for every taste – concretes, malts, frappes, and insanely loaded milkshakes (which usually have more toppings than the milkshake).
Milkshakes are an iconic part of American culture. They’re a symbol of American youth and can be found at almost any diner and fast-food restaurant around the country.
12. Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream
If you’ve ever been to a mall, movie theater, stadium, or amusement park, you’ve probably run into liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Better known by its most popular vendor’s name, Dippin’ Dots, liquid nitrogen ice cream consists of tiny cryogenically frozen beads of ice cream.
Liquid nitrogen ice cream contains the same ingredients as regular ice cream, but it’s quickly frozen at a temperature of -320ºF to form unique little spheres.
Once you eat it, it melts in your mouth, exactly how regular ice cream does.
Liquid nitrogen ice cream was first made by microbiologist Curt Jones in 1988, but its popularity exploded over the next 15 years.
Dippin’ Dots’ cotton candy flavor is the most nostalgic, but their other popular flavors include banana split, birthday cake, and dairy-free rainbow ice.
Spaghettieis is a whimsical German dessert made to look like a plate of spaghetti.
It was invented by a gelato vendor, Dario Fontanella, in the 1960s.
To make spaghettieis (which translates to “spaghetti ice cream” in English), vanilla ice cream is pushed through a pasta press to become long, spaghetti-like strands.
It’s then drizzled with strawberry or raspberry sauce and topped with something sweet to mimic the look of parmesan cheese – usually grated white chocolate or coconut flakes.
Other variations exist, such as switching out the fruit sauce for a chocolate sauce and the coconut for hazelnuts.
Spagghettieis is mainly popular in Germany, but its popularity is slowly spreading because of its novelty.
14. Fried Ice Cream
Fried ice cream is exactly what it sounds like – ice cream that has been frozen, battered, and deep-fried.
This type of ice cream is mainly associated with Asian food culture but is now loved around the world.
Fried ice cream stands out because of its ability to be hot and cold at the same time.
The crispy, warm shell holds in the still-cold ice cream, making for a fun juxtaposition in temperatures.
This is accomplished by freezing the ice cream until it’s well below its typical temperature.
It’s then rolled in cornflakes, cookie crumbs, or dipped in batter before being briefly deep-fried.
The ice cream’s super cold temperature allows it to be fried without losing its shape.
The most common flavor of fried ice cream is vanilla, but other popular flavors include red bean and green tea.
Dondurma is the Turkish word for ice cream, but it usually specifically refers to Turkish mastic ice cream in English.
Dondurma is made with cream, whipped, mastic (plant resin), sugar, and salep (part of the orchid plant).
These unique ingredients are to thank for dondurma’s stretchiness and elasticity.
Its unique texture is the main appeal, but it also comes in Turkish flavors not commonly found in American ice cream, like rosewater and saffron.
Dondurma vendors often use paddles and cold marble slabs to stretch the mixture, putting on a little show as they make and serve the ice cream.
This type of ice cream is also particularly resistant to melting due to the salep and mastic, which are stabilizers that help the ice cream hold its shape.
From classic Italian gelato to whimsical fried or spaghetti-shaped ice cream, there’s no shortage of ice cream types to try out.
Next time you hear the tantalizing tune of an ice cream truck, grab your wallet and get ready to explore beyond the realm of regular ice cream (be sure to bring a couple of extra dollars for a SpongeBob pop, though).