Pistachio Ice Cream

Italians invented gelato, so they have firm ideas about it. In their view, gelato is a wholesome, high-calcium, mid-afternoon snack, not a calorific indulgence like ice cream.


Some key distinctions:

  • Ice cream is richer and higher in fat than gelato. Most ice cream is custard based, with a high proportion of egg yolks and more cream than milk. Gelato typically contains fewer egg yolks (sometimes none) and more milk than cream.
  • Gelato is denser than ice cream. Because it is frozen more slowly, it has less air whipped in (what the industry calls “overrun”).
  • Gelato tends to be softer than ice cream. That’s because it’s traditionally stored at a warmer temperature. Ice cream has to be kept colder because of its higher fat content; it would melt too fast otherwise.


The language police won’t bust you if you make pistachio ice cream and call it gelato, but at least you should understand your options.

Using egg to thicken your custard yields a product with an eggy taste. That’s not unpleasant, but it does mask some pistachio flavor. To get a more pronounced pistachio taste, consider replacing egg yolks with cornstarch. Turkish ice cream uses salep, a starch extracted from orchid roots. Xanthum gum or guar gum is another possibility for thickening custard without hiding the flavor you want to highlight.



“A lot of chefs are modernizing their ice cream with a more contemporary formula that relies less on egg, a recipe that delivers flavor in a more efficient way,” says Stephen Durfee, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. “Seawood or gum does the job more efficiently because you use less of it.”


Pistachio products: Durfee uses pistachio paste to make gelato from milk, cream, and sugar. For more mouthfeel, he thickens the base with cornstarch before blending it with pistachio paste. For a pistachio ice cream with whole nuts, he suggests roasting the nuts first to help them stay crunchy. Use low-temperature roasting to preserve the green color. The base ice cream could be vanilla, pistachio, rose water or saffron.


Other frozen desserts: “In my classes we make an Indian-style ice cream called kulfi,” says Chef Durfee. “It’s not aerated. We fold pistachios into it for texture, and it’s molded.” Or make a pistachio semifreddo with crushed pistachio praline. Chef Durfee sometimes makes a nougat glacé: Swiss meringue and whipped cream folded together with pistachio praline, then frozen. Fold in some candied orange peel and chopped chocolate while you’re at it.


Truth squad: Most commercial pistachio ice cream doesn’t even contain pistachios. Manufacturers use almond paste for flavor and green food coloring to produce the hue that consumers expect. Better to educate consumers than to dupe them: Make your pistachio ice cream with real pistachios or pistachio paste and inform patrons that the pale-green color is natural and a sign of purity.