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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

What is Panna?

A simple addition that makes or breaks gelato.

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Panna is the final touch on gelato—but what is it?

Simply put, panna is heavy cream. Or, just "cream." But it's not the Italian word crema which refers to pastry cream, a lemon-flavored eggy custard-like cream.

Whipped cream on a whisk.

Panna, pronounced pah-nuh, is also the Italian word for whipped cream.

So, what does that mean for gelato?

When ordering a gelato at a gelateria (a gelato shop), they will always ask you if you'd like panna on top. Typically, this is totally free, unlike in the States, where the addition of whipped cream can often be more than a dollar. If the gelatera is charging you for the panna, look around, or consult this article, because you might be in a toursity gelato shop.

Panna will often come in two ways—handmade or machine made. When I say machine, I don't mean a KitchenAid, I mean a little machine that looks a lot like a shaving cream machine at a barber's.

You'll want to go for the handmade kind. Not only does it taste better, you can often assume they don't add any fillers into it like stabilizers, gum, or sugar.

Wait a second, no sugar? I know! While whipped cream in the States is often served sweetened, it's almost always served unsweetened in Italy, allowing the panna to simply add an additional layer of fat and creaminess to the gelato, rather than adding another portion of sweetness (potentially throwing of the sweetness of the gelato already present).

I told you, Italians take their gelato seriously.

So it's just plain whipped cream?

Yes. And no. Some places, like Come il Latte or Il Romano in Rome will offer a second, more exotic whipped cream. This can range from cinnamon-flavored to zabaglione-flavored (eggs and Marsala wine).

I urge caution, though. If it's going to be your first ever gelato in Italy, try one without any fancy panna flavors. Sometimes the fun flavors can disrupt a gelato, or simply make the flavors fall out of balance.

Of course, panna is simply one of the many aspects of gelato. For a list of what to look for when trying to find the best gelato, click here!


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