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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

Gelato Flavors: Classic and Common

Looking at what flavors to expect, and where to find the unexpected

This article might make use of affiliate links which help support Only A Bag.

 

Italians have hard and fast rules when it comes to flavors. Of anything. Pastries, pasta, bread, it doesn't matter. You mess with the flavors, you might just start a fight. Anyone who has watched the first episode of Chef's Table with Massimo Bottura already knows this—Italians don't do well with non-traditional foods.


It's not always bad, however. I'm a huge fan of pistachio gelato, and I can pretty much count on every gelaterie (gelato shop) having this flavor available as it's a popular flavor in Italy. So while it's difficult to find wild and wacky flavors, it's not impossible, and there are plenty of "normal" flavors to enjoy until you find the fun ones.


Gelato Flavors

Without further ado, the typical gelato flavors that you can count on finding in every gelateria.

Person scooping gelato.
Funny enough, real gelato is served with a paddle, not an ice cream scoop.

Fior di Latte

Called "milk flower" in English, fior di latte is the oldest flavor of gelato dating back to the 1600s. In fact, all gelato flavors use fior di latte as a base because fior di latte is made with three ingredients: milk, cream, and sugar. From here, anything can be added to create countless of flavors.

If you ever want to taste "pure" gelato, consider trying fior di latte.


Stracciatella

What happens if you mix chocolate sauce into a vat of fior di latte that's in the middle of churning? Enrico Panattoni had the very thought in 1961. Thus, the famous milk gelato with shreds (stracciatella) of chocolate was born.


Cioccolato

What's more classic than chocolate ice cream?

If you want to experience pure decadence, try the "cioccolato fondente" or dark chocolate gelato. Many gelaterie will make this without milk and cream, using a base of water instead to make it closer to a chocolate sorbet, though ask before ordering if you can't eat dairy—the chocolate they use will sometimes have milk solids.


Nocciola

Italians love to use nuts in everything and anything, and gelato is no exception. For the best hazelnut gelato, look for "nocciola Romana DOP" or "nocciola di Piemonte IGP" which are hazelnuts grown in regions famous for hazelnut culture (specifically in the regions around Rome like the town of Viterbo and in the Piedmont region in the north).


Pistacchio

As I said, big lovers of nut-focused flavors. And when it comes to pistachios (two "c"s in the Italian version), there's nothing better than pistachios from Bronte (DOP, of course) in Sicily. As mentioned in this article, pistachio gelato is a great way to tell if a gelateria uses fake coloring or not. A good pistachio gelato should be light tan/brown instead of green.


Tiramisu

A classic dessert turned into an amazing gelato. What more could anyone want? Pair it with the coffee gelato for an extra but of savoriness, or even a zabaglione or malaga gelato for a little extra [alcoholic] kick.


Caffé

Nothing brings back more ice cream memories than my dad always getting coffee ice cream and only allowing my brother and I a taste. But we could never get our own—after all, who would want to sugar-and-caffeine high kids running around? Now that I'm all grown up and I get to make all my own decisions, coffee gelato is my go-to.

It's rich, decadent, savory, and comes with a little energy kick—what more could I ask for?


Caramello

I'll be honest, caramel was never my go-to for any flavor. My brother couldn't get enough of it, but to me it felt like sugary sugar. Until, one night, in 2023, I went to Neve di Latte in Rome and I saw they had a "caramello salato" or salted caramel. I wasn't really considering it, but it was the only flavor that I hadn't tried, so I thought I should give it a shot. An almost-burned sugar flavor is apparently one of my favorite flavors. While not being charred and bitter, the flavor hovered on that edge that I feel too many pastry-and-gelato makers refuse to visit.

Either way, a flavor found throughout Italy.


Sorbetto Flavors

When it comes to gelato, there's also sorbetto. Which is like saying, "When it comes to my favorite flavor of milk, there's also fruit juice."

But Italy (and France, with their sorbet) has a long history of milk-free gelato, instead using water or fruit juice as a base. And those flavors can be just as consistent.


Límone

It's almost impossible to not find a gelateria that has lemon sorbetto available year-round. However, I do want to warn you. As mentioned in the post linked here, you don't want a yellow-looking lemon sorbetto. It should be a cloudy-white. If it's yellow, chances are, the flavor is artificial as well.


Lampone

While more typical in the summer, raspberry is a mainstay for most gelaterie. It's sharp, fruity, and pairs well with a variety of other flavors (like chocolate).


Mango

Even though mangoes aren't native to Italy, that' hasn't stopped Italy from quickly adopting mango as a flavor in pastries and sorbetto.


Fico

The summer/early autumn in Italy is famous for being "fig season" and there are probably few other times of year enjoyed as much as fig season. Sandwich places (like our favorite place in Rome, 200 Gradi) use fresh figs in sandwiches, gelaterie use fresh figs in sorbetto, and regions like Puglia sun-dry the figs and then roast them for a simple but tasty dessert. If you're lucky enough to be in Italy for fig season, you'll have an amazing time in gelaterie.


Fragola

Strawberries are widely used in Italy, but in the summer, for a few brief weeks, there are wild forest strawberries that are the size of a dime and pack the punch of ten strawberries reduced to a single nibble. This is the strawberry you'll want to seek out. "Fragola di bosco" means "strawberry of the forest." And while it's now possible to cultivate this strawberry, some of the more artisanal gelaterie will buy the strawberries from foragers—or forage for them themselves!


Mora

Blackberries grow like wildfire throughout Italy. Even a stroll through Rome can net you a bag of blackberries from all the bushes that grow near the Tiber. And in the late summer, when the berries are in season, this flavor is ubiquitous in every gelateria.


Frutti di Bosco

Very much like America's "mixed berry", Italy prefers the more dramatic—and romantic—fruits of the forest. While everyone has their own formula and additional berries, the standard ingredients are strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and red currants. This is one of the most popular flavors of anything in Italy, from jams to pastries to fillings to gum.


Of course, these aren't the only flavors of gelato and sorbetto in Italy, but these are the most common.


While other flavors do exist (Pecorino cheese and honey from Fatamorgana, or cucumber and black pepper from Otaleg!) it takes time to scope them out and find them.

The best way of doing so getting off the beaten path. Around tourist attractions there are gelaterie that need to make money with a high turnover of gelato, so it's best for them to make safe, trusted flavors. You'll have to follow your feet deep into Trastevere or Flaminio to find the gelaterie with the interesting and bold flavors.



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