Is Gelato Vegan? Production, Ethics, and Alternatives

While gelato is not vegan, there are plenty of sweet plant-based alternatives.

is gelato vegan photo illustration

Joshua Seong / hdagli / Getty Images

Gelato is a culinary marvel and one of Italy's sweetest gifts. It differs from ice cream because it is churned to a custard-like texture with a generous amount of cream and less milk. Unfortunately, gelatos are almost always not vegan, as many classic recipes include dairy and eggs.

However, sorbet—made with some combination of water, sugar, juice, pureed fruit, and nuts—is an alternative offered by many gelato brands and artisanal gelato shops. Plus, given that there are cashew, coconut, almond, and soy-based ice creams on the market, chances are we may see a few vegan gelatos in the future.

Here, we dive into why gelato is not vegan and what you can eat instead.

Why Gelato Is Usually Not Vegan

Gelato is made of milk or cream (sometimes both), sugar, and a variety of flavorings.

Many commercial gelatos sold in the states are milk-based and made by combining pasteurized dairy and sugar in equal amounts. After this, the flavorings are added. A small amount of air is churned into the mixture before placing it in the freezer. There is much less air added to gelato than ice cream; this gives gelato a more rich, velvety texture.

Because of the inclusion of dairy, gelato cannot be vegan.

Did You Know?

Companies are now crafting vegan gelatos that use plant-based milk and cream alternatives, like coconut and cashews. These recipes often have other unique, natural ingredients like allulose—a sugar naturally found in dried fruit and maple syrup—that, when blended with air, water, and nuts or cacao, supply gelato's rich, firm texture.

Types of Vegan Gelato

There are a few brands that claim to have come close to finding the elusive vegan gelato formula. Even though many are labeled as "sorbetto" for accuracy, the flavors, ingredients, and density of texture make them very gelato-like. Here are just a few plant-based recommendations:

  • Talenti Peanut Butter Fudge: The use of peanut butter gives this sorbet a gelato-like consistency.
  • Talenti Chocolate Sorbetto: This one is dairy-free but so smooth that it might fool you.
  • Talenti Layers Coconut Chocolate Cookie Sorbetto: For when you want a chocolatey, nutty sweet.
  • Talenti Cold Brew Coffee Sorbetto: Our favorite pick-me-up.
  • Nubocha: Available on their website, and in limited areas of the United States in Peanut Butter, Italian Vanilla, Chocolate Arriba, Salted Caramel, and Pistachio.

Treehugger Tip

Want another type of frozen sweet treat? Your options are nearly limitless. From non-dairy ice creams to fruity ice pops, there are tons of vegan options in your grocery store's frozen foods aisle. Just make sure to check the label for a vegan certification or for exclusively plant-based ingredients.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is all gelato dairy-free?

    No, most gelato contains milk and/or cream, making it not safe for vegans.

  • Is sorbet a type of gelato?

    No, sorbet is often dairy- and egg-free and made with a combination of sweetened juice, fruit puree, and water. It is typically denser than gelato and can serve as a vegan alternative.

  • What is the difference between gelato and ice cream?

    Gelato typically requires more milk and less cream than ice cream, but often no egg yolks, which is a common ingredient in many ice creams. Neither are traditionally vegan.