Frozen Sweet Treats: What’s the Difference?

In the past, ice cream was once an expensive and rare treat because it took quite a long time to prepare the dessert before the invention of modern refrigeration was born. Today, ice cream isn’t the only frozen indulgence that satisfies a sweet tooth. We can now choose from a variety of frozen sweet treats that offer an array of ingredients, flavors, and textures, including:

Ice Cream

ice cream dessert
Image Credit: Richard Dudley

Dairy products, such as milk and cream, play a significant role in making ice cream, which comes in fat-free, slow churned, sugar free, and low-fat versions. The variety of fruits, nuts, flavors, and other ingredients livening up our ice creams are endless. From rosewater-flavored selections served at Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream (Los Angeles, California) to inspired blends, like Turkey Hill’s Limited Edition Baked Apple Dumpling, creative minds cease to surprise our taste buds. Ice cream is also used in a variety of delicious desserts – ice cream pies, parfaits, cakes, and other desserts, like the infamous Baked Alaska.

ice cream dessert
photo credit: Michal Zacharzewski

Introduced as a healthier alternative to ice cream, frozen yogurt (also known as ‘froyo’) is made from or contains yogurt and/or other dairy products, which contributes to a lower calorie count. Frozen yogurt possesses a softer consistency and is considered tartier than ice cream. A basic frozen yogurt recipe generally includes milk solids, milk fat, yogurt culture, sweetener, gelatin, corn syrup, coloring, and flavoring. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peach, and other fruity flavors dominate the frozen yogurt market.

Frozen Custard

Similar to ice cream, frozen custard carries a high percentage of butterfat and egg yolk, which creates a thick, creamy texture. This frozen treat offers a much smoother, softer consistency than ice cream. The best place to enjoy frozen custard is at a modern stand or facility, where the treat is prepared fresh. It’s usually hard to track down frozen custards in a grocery store. Standard flavors include chocolate and vanilla with the occasional unique blend – often touted as a ‘flavor of the day.’


The Italian version of ice cream is called gelato – a frozen dessert typically consisting of milk, cream, sugar, and natural flavorings – most often fruit and nut purees. This traditional sweet treat usually delivers a bolder flavor and contains about 3% less fat than ice cream. Often served in a small glass dish or paper container, popular gelato flavors include chocolate, pistachio, coffee, egg custard, strawberry, raspberry, and lemon.


A range of sorbets is found in restaurants and grocery stores – a frozen treat consisting of sweetened water flavored with frozen fruit juice or puree. Wine, liqueurs, and chocolate can also play a role in the creation of sorbet. While ice cream uses dairy products with an abundant amount of air whipped in, sorbet differs in its composition – allowing a dense and fuller flavor to emerge in this non-fat or low-fat dessert. Popular flavors of sorbet include key lime, mango, and coconut.


Sherbet offers a refreshing frozen blend of sweetened fruit juice and water. Sometimes, sherbet contains egg whites, gelatin, and milk, but usually only a small amount. The sweet treat possesses a lighter consistency than ice cream and is known for its vibrantly fruity flavors. Raspberry, orange, lime, and lemon represent standard sherbet flavors. Tropical blends, such as pineapple, mango, and coconut are also available. Pair orange sherbet with vanilla ice cream to create a dazzlingly traditional combination.

Italian Ice

Not to be confused with an Icee or flavored shaved ice, Italian ice actually undergoes the same process as ice cream – mixing ingredients and pouring them into a batch freezer. This frozen dessert is comprised of concentrated syrup flavoring or natural fruit purees. Cherry, lemon, orange, and blue raspberry are popular flavors of Italian ice, which is typically served in small cups or tube-like containers.