Decoding Frozen Dairy Desserts

buttermilk blueberry ice cream

Nothing beats the summer heat quite like a frosty dairy treat. From ice cream to sherbet, there are so many delicious scoop-able options. While they may not seem all that different in taste and texture, each one is unique. Expand your frozen dairy treat horizon and enjoy the many options this summer and all year long.

Ice Cream

Ice cream gets its fluffy whipped texture from being churned at a high speed to incorporate air, which increases its volume. Made with milk, cream, sugar, and sometimes egg yolks, it must have at least 10 percent milkfat to be labeled ice cream, making it one of the most decadent and delicious of the frozen dairy treats.


Gelato, ice cream’s Italian cousin, is also made with an ingredient combination similar to that of ice cream, but with different proportions. This frozen treat uses more milk and less cream, which means it contains lower fat. Plus, gelato gets its signature dense consistency from being churned very slowly during the freezing process to avoid incorporating too much air.

Frozen Custard

Frozen custard has a similar ratio of milk, cream, and sugar as ice cream, and always contains egg yolks, which makes for a richer product. To be labeled as “frozen custard,” it must have 1.4 percent egg yolks in addition to at least 10 percent milkfat. Like gelato, it’s slow-churned, but has a consistency more like soft-serve.

Southeast Dairy Association - strawberry frozen yogurt bars

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt (A.K.A. Fro-Yo) is made with cultured milk instead of cream, which gives it its distinctive tart and tangy taste and may contain more sugar to compensate for the cultured milk’s unique flavor.


Sherbet is whipped like ice cream, but it is made with only a touch of milk to allow fruit to take center stage. While it is a lower-fat alternative to the other dairy desserts, it’s higher in added sugars.

Although store-bought versions of frozen desserts might be convenient, making them at home couldn’t be any easier and is a fun way to get the kids in the kitchen this summer. Visit The Dairy Alliance’s dessert section for Blueberry Buttermilk Ice Cream, Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Bars, and other frozen dairy recipes. 

Andrea Kirkland, MS, RD, is the owner and founder of Culinary Med. Ed., an online continuing education service that offers culinary courses to dietitians. She provides leadership for the company’s strategic growth and direction, which includes the development of course and patient education materials. As an experienced editor, writer, and recipe developer she has created food-related content for print and online media brands, including Weight Watchers, Cooking Light, Diabetic Living, and eMeals.

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