Home Celebrating One Year A Brief History of Gelato

A Brief History of Gelato

This image is a stock image of gelato and does not represent Dolce Diletto.

Burien News is celebrating its one-year anniversary! Today there are thousands of readers, but many of you may have missed some of the early stories we loved. Over the summer, we will be republishing a few of the best. Enjoy, and thank you to our loyal followers!

This article was originally published on June 13, 2022. 

by Matthew Howe

Ten years ago my wife and I had an opportunity to travel the Tuscan hills of Italy. It was a magical time as we navigated our tiny Fiat 200 every day to experience the tastes, sights, culture and people of Italy. Barely a day passes by when we don’t reflect on something that crossed our path during that time. Italy provided us our first experience and taste of gelato (gelato translates literally to “frozen”). We certainly indulged daily, and on multiple occasions we had gelato at noon AND supper, because it was absolutely vital, essential, and sinful to not see what artful creation was behind the shopkeepers door.

A Brief History of Gelato

This image is a stock image and does not depict Dolce Diletto

It’s really a story that begins over 12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia where a mixture of ice and honey was used for royal banquets. The evolution of gelato began during the 11 th century under Arab rule in Sicily. A “sugar syrup” called shrb, was used as a base for making fruit sorbets utilizing medicinal herbs, spices and flowers for flavoring. As many as 400 different types of flowers were used to flavor their sorbets!

What we refer to as gelato today began during the Renaissance with an alchemist, Cosimo Ruggieri. Interestingly the place where gelato is made (we would more commonly call it a kitchen) is formally referred to as a laboratory in Italy. Ruggieri’s original gelato creation was for the Medici family of Florence and called “fior di latte”, which means flower of milk. And thus the genesis of modern day gelato was born.

Vicki and Matt Howe behind the counter of their Olde Burien gelato shop, Dolce Diletto.

Gelato was introduced to the masses in Paris in 1686 at Café Le Procope. Prior to that time key elements for making gelato, such as ice, salt, and dairy were expensive and thus only served in wealthier private residences.

How is gelato different from ice cream?

Three primary distinctions exist between gelato and ice cream:

  •  Fat content. Gelato is made with less cream than ice cream, which means gelato has less fat! Gelato usually has a butterfat content of around 4 to 9 percent, considerably lower than ice cream.
  • Texture. Gelato’s creamy texture is thick and dense, because it is churned slowly to allow less air in the mixture. This produces the rich soft texture that gelato
    enthusiasts have come to appreciate.
  • Temperature. Gelato is served at higher temperatures than ice cream (between 10 degrees to 22 degrees Fahrenheit), in order to keep gelato’s dense texture from becoming too solid and difficult to eat. Warmer serving temperature means its flavor comes across much richer than ice cream.
Dolce Diletto storefront

Gelato is considered to be an art form in Italy where over 30,000 gelaterias exist. And you thought that the United States has a Starbucks on every corner! By the way, Starbucks has just over 14,000 locations in the entire United States and Italy is roughly the size of just the state of Florida.

Fast forward 10 years and Vicki and I have had the privilege to begin our own gelato journey here in Burien with the opening of Dolce Diletto, at 917 SW 152 nd St, Burien, WA. Many of you frequented and enjoyed the offerings presented by Fareed and Jennifer Al-Abboud with Medzo Gelato Bar and we are grateful to carry on the art and tradition for this wonderful community.

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