/Judge a Gelateria in 7 Easy Steps

Judge a Gelateria in 7 Easy Steps

No. On so many levels.

For years, the quality of gelato in Italy has been in decline, as the cost of natural ingredients has risen and local food sensibility has plummeted. That leaves consumers on their own when trying to figure out which gelatos are natural and truly artisanal. Figuring out whether a gelateria serves quality product is actually easier than you may think and is mainly based on easily observable criteria (no Italian required!). If you see any of these things, it is safe to say you are dealing with industrial garbage or chemical laden crap:

The ingredients list is hidden or not displayed: If you have to look really hard for the list of ingredients, which shops must display by law, run away.

Fluffy heaps of gelato overflowing their tubs: The airy consistence, however pretty, is obtained with chemical additives and stabilizers that allow more air to be incorporated into the mix. For examples, visit Blue Ice and Della Palma in Rome. Just don’t eat anything!

The mint is bright green: Mint gelato should be white, or extremely pale green. A natural mint gelato uses the essential oils, producing a white product, while a super pale green mint flavors (like Fatamorgana’s panacea below) uses the leaf itself.

The ingredients list has lots items beginning with E followed by a number: Gelato additives are coded (for a full list that are permitted, see this website). Some additives are natural (don’t worry about E410 or E412, carob bean flour and guar, respectively), while others are practically poison (I’d love to know what blue patent does to internal organs).

Red flag.

There is a giant gelato cut-out in front of the shop: No self respecting gelato artisan would buy one of these horrible signs in front of his shop. Just assume the gelato is as artisanal as the sign.

The gelateria offers “Puffo” flavor: If you see this flavor (bubble gum), run away. If the idea of bubble gum gelato isn’t revolting enough, remember that “Puffo” is the Italian word for Smurf. Scary.

Beware of the words “Artigianale” and “Produzione propria”: These words gets thrown around a lot and imply artisanal, homemade products. There are no (enforced) laws regulating how the words are used, so a gelataio could dump fat, milk, and a bunch of packets of powders, chemicals, and colorings into their gelato machine and what comes out is, technically, artisanal and homemade. And gross.

The real deal: gelato at Fatamorgana.

For some advice on where to eat excellent gelato in Rome, check out My Guides to Gelato in Rome, including a map and itinerary on Foodspotting.

2017-02-17T15:26:34+00:00 July 17th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Gastronomic Traditions, Gelato, Rome & Lazio, Sweets & Dessert|45 Comments


  1. Nathalie ( @spacedlaw ) July 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Colouring is the best “stay away from me” sign, most of the time.

    When in doubt, have a taste of the pistachio: it should taste like crushed nuts and not have any bitter edge which is cause by artificial flavouring.
    Also: If it is too sweet, it is most likely not natural.

  2. Mario July 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    This post is full of s**t. This person has probably had 2 ice creams in Italy, total. Does not know what she is talking about.

  3. Marion July 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Della Palma’s ice creams aren’t piled up high like blue ice.

  4. Johanna July 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    I have the pistachio test, also. If it is bright green, run away.

  5. Angie July 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I like to use the banana rule, which is similar to mint. Banana gelato should never be yellow. If it’s a pale greyish color, that’s when you’re good to go!

  6. Katie July 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    @Nathalie the pistacchio test is a good one. but what about the torinese style of gelato that is completely smooth?

    @angie banana is a good one too. i think as consumers we are up against so much in trying to eat naturally in italy (contrary to popular belief), that a place really needs to be held to multiple criteria in order to be green lighted in my book:)

    @Marion no, it’s not a blue ice mountain but it has the fluffy whipped consistency brought on by stabilizers

    @Johanna run away indeed!

  7. Justine July 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    Haha this is awesome- I was just telling a friend visiting from the states to stay away from Puffo/Bubblegum and to judge whether it’s fresh or not by looking at the color of the banana- awesome post!

  8. Tater July 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Tater’s had a lot of gelato in Rome, and the first thing he wants is somethin made with real fruits and nuts and milk. Heard that Gelateria Frigidarium is pretty good, but ain’t sure if he’s et it or not.

  9. Philip Curnow July 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    Katie, some sweeping statements to begin with, but I’m with you!

    Nevertheless, don’t underestimate a Roman/Italian’s ability to judge ice cream quality very, very quickly.

    I invite you to Trieste Salaria to sample a wonderful pear and gorgonzola gelato from a little place not far from us. Traditional? No. But strictly artisan.

  10. Katie July 18, 2011 at 12:13 am - Reply

    @Justine thanks! how gross is the thought of puffo ice cream. i find it terrifying but small children like it so it is everywhere. yuck

    @Tater Gelateria Frigidarium is the one on Via del Governo Vecchio. it gets good and bad reviews but if we are judging it from a natural standpoint, i dont think it passes the test.

    @Philip are you talking about Fatamorgana? i am obsessed with that place. her pear and gorgonzola is divine. whether it is fata or not, we should certainly test out gelato together! i know my first sentence sounds like im being very harsh on romans/italians but i have come to this conclusion after countless gelato tastings, as well as conversations with Roman food producers, purveyors, and gelatai (all of whom universally lament the local lack of interest in quality food). im afraid for the future of food in rome. have you not noticed in the decline in offerings across the board, from produce to baked goods?

  11. Ed July 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    ‘as the cost of natural ingredients has risen’ not sure that is the problem, more the amount of labour. Good icecream can be made from almost overripe fruit. I knew a guy who just to go to the market and buy the fruits no one wanted for little money and made fantastic icecream out of it with sugar and sometimes a bit of raw milk. Some offcourse were egg based. (though I prefer the Sicillian way with cornflour, more clean taste) Where can one find the law that obliges to put up a list of ingredients. Ever been to Florence? All that pluff icecream yulk. I assume Mario is having a bade day btw?

  12. Conchita Vecchio July 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Hey Katie, ya think I should go down to La Cremolada in Palermo and tell them ” Hey, the 30-odd flavors that I’ve tried at your place aren’t enough; I want the “Katie is full of sh*t flavor!”? BTW…will be having dessert later on at Oriol…pistachio nutella…just sayin’!

  13. David in Abruzzo July 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Think this article mistakenly tars every Italian gelateria with the same brush in an effort to prove a point.
    I don’t doubt many of the arguments hold true for big city gelaterias. But they decidedly don’t for those in rural/non-tourist areas.
    I can only judge by the fabulous Copa d’Ora in Abruzzo’s San Vito Marina. Yes, they proclaim Produzione Propria. Yes, they have a huge cone hanging outside. But yes – they’ve been around since 1940; and yes – their gelato’s won more awards than Lady GaGa; and yes – of this summer’s new flavour lines, the pink grapefruit is possibly the best I’ve ever tasted.
    So by all means be aware of what might be lurking in that attractive-looking tub – just don’t be too quick to condemn (and maybe deprive yourself of a great gelato) if it doesn’t tick all your self-imposed boxes.

  14. rinaz July 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this well written post, I love gelato and and have a few favourites like Tony Gelateria and Gioliti which are in Rome. I’ve never really paid much thought about those gelateria with gelato piled up high like in the first picture, they are colourful and fun to look, but I’ve always been curious to see why it never seems to run out, every time I see them. Like it was so unpopular, no one wanted them.

    And now I have an inkling 🙂

  15. conor July 19, 2011 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    How can you overlook Toni’s on Viale Colli Portuensi – justly renowned and generous portions, too.

  16. John Starrett July 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    If you search for Blue Ice Rome on Trip Advisor you will see a three and a half star rating with glowing 5 star reviews near the beginning. If you click the box that changes the order of reviews to show those in Italian first, you will get a string of 1 star reviews.

  17. Katie July 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    @John hey sorry for being dense, but i dont get it. it’s too hot to think in rome right now. will you please explain?

    @Ed haha yes mario was having a terrible day. i had a good laugh at the thought of only having had gelato twice in my life…i have been to florence. in fact i took that first photo in florence on saturday afternoon.

    a decree passed by the Minstero dell’Industria del Comercio e del Artigiano (Decr. 20.12.94) mandates that ingredient lists be posted in gelaterias, pastry shops, and bakeries. not surprisingly, they are often well hidden in places with the most rubbish in their product. i passed by della palma today out of curiosity and didnt see it posted at all. giolitti’s was taped inside the gelato case behind foggy glass…

    the cost of ingredients absolutely has risen. in the past decade the cost of quality and organic produce has gone up. The cost of chocolate, sugar, quality milk, vanilla, etc have all risen. of course someone can make gelato with overripe fruit but i think it is important to ask where is the produce coming from, in what kind of soil is it being cultivated? what kind of milk or eggs are being used? the fact is, ingredients of reasonable and of high quality cost more than their chemical substitutes.

    @conchita oh my god if i could get a cremolado named after me i would die!!! can we work on that please? how was oriol?

    @David i have never been to this gelateria you speak of and it may very well be great, but my question is, does it use natural ingredients? i would love to see a list of ingredients-perhaps you could go by and take a photo? at the risk of sounding hyperbolic (i think im being quite accurate here) over 80% of gelaterias in italy (rural towns included) do not serve natural gelato. even the places that are touted as having the best gelato use chemical additives, colorings, and flavorings. all it takes is a spin around italy (i travel to cities, towns and rural areas quite a bit), a chat with real artisans, and a peek at ingredients list to reveal that the food we are being served isnt always what we believe or expect. for that reason it is vitally important to single out the producers who are making natural products and to condemn those that do not. if a gelateria doenst tick all those boxes, i dont eat there. i dont see it is a deprivation at all, but rather as my insistence that what i eat is natural and not pumped full of god knows what.

    @rinaz ive been meaning to go to tony. that is the one in monteverde/portuense right? i stopped by giolitti this evening to check out their ingredients list and it’s not pretty. i prefer gelateria del teatro and il gelato di claudio torce, both nearby, for their more natural approach to gelato production.

    @conor generous portions are not a bad thing but they are not a prerequisite for me. is the place you refer to the same rinaz mentions, gelateria tony?

  18. Katie July 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    @john ah ok that’s what i though but wasnt certain. thanks for clarifying and for not making me feel stupid for asking a dumb question:)

  19. David in Abruzzo July 20, 2011 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Katie…unless you can provide documentary evidence that “over 80% of gelaterias in italy (rural towns included) do not serve natural gelato” you’re making unsubstantiated allegations to back-up your highly personal opinions.

    Where you eat is your prerogative. Yes, the gelateria I mention does indeed use “natural ingredients”. But you’d never go there because – by your own criteria – there’s a cone hanging outside and they proudly announce their gelato is home-made.

    And that’s just plain silly.

  20. Ed July 20, 2011 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Hey Dave ul a picture of their shop and ingredient list so we know we have to pass.

  21. Katie July 20, 2011 at 9:50 am - Reply

    @David it’s very strange to me that you are stuck on the hanging cone criteria. perhaps you are in the sign business? it is truly the most banal part of the list, one which was compiled after extensive research and one that can really help people eat better, healthier and more natural food. i have been writing about gelato and interviewing gelato artisans for years and the post was a response to what i have observed as a decline in quality overall and a rise in chemical additives. At least 8 out of every 10 gelaterie that i visit in Italy use some kind of chemical additives (especially colors and artificial flavors). so the 80% estimate is actually a conservative one. if you are content to look the other way, by all means do so. but i won’t do it. and i think informing people of the reality of the situation, one which i have carefully studied, is a responsible thing to do, not some personal whim.

    I join Ed in inviting you to post more details about Gelateria Coppa d’Ora in San Vito. From the photos i have seen online, this gelato appears to have the ever popular fluffy, smooth industrial appearance, but some better shots and an ingredients list would help. looking forward to it!

  22. jerry glynn July 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I am not in Rome. I am in Urbana, Illinois with an ice cream machine I bought in Firenze in 1985. I need a recipe to make my own gelato. Help !

  23. David in Abruzzo July 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm - Reply

    Sorry Katie…your argument’s as unconvincing as your blog. You have your viewpoint; I have mine and on this issue, we agree to disagree. I’ll pass on further discussion.

  24. John Starrett July 20, 2011 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    I agree that the sign is not a true indicator of quality. There may be some correlation, but it is a bit unfair to include it. However, the ingredient list is a true sign of natural production, and you should look here:

    to see what’s going in to your gelato. That said, there are several things on this list that should not be considered “chemicals” in the pure food sense, since they are naturally occurring components of food.

  25. Lorenzo July 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Jerry, for help, you just need to travel more widely close to home. Urbana, Illinois has an artisanal gelato-maker, who combines Italian equipment and training with the organic milk and fruits of their own farm – Prairie Fruits Farm. Their nocciolo gelato is to die for! I’m sure Wes would be glad to help you out.

  26. Kelly July 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    Katie: Any comment on the locations listed in the Wall Street Journal last week about eating gelato in Sicily? Would love to hear what you think of the places mentioned.

    I looked all over Palermo for a granita that wasn’t in one of those frozen drinks machines they have in bars in the US. I finally came across a place where they were in a freezer case like gelato. I asked if it was handmade and he seemed insulted and took me to see the lemon granita he was in the process of making. It was delicious! I completely agree with you that the more natural the better.

  27. Michael July 20, 2011 at 10:37 pm - Reply

    You know my feelings about your work and your diligence in research. I am sad to see such polarization with this particular post.

    I will ask this question of your detractors: Would you eat in a restaurant in Italy that posts photos of their food outside of their place?

    While the possibility exists that the food within a pace with photos of Lasagna on the wall (in Rome) is good, the odds are certainly stacked against the quality.

    It is the naive Italian traveler that believes that the locals are immune to the lure of easy capitalism, and Katie is truly an advocate of the consumer and the especially of the artists, farmers, chefs, Nonnas, and people who are doing it right.

    This article I assure you was researched on a “Gladwellian” level before it went to press. Take exception with Katie’s opinions if you like; however, labeling the blog ineffective or insisting her facts were not vetted are errors on the part of her detractors.

    Keep up the good work Katie and thanks for putting up the good fight.


  28. Vanessa @ Project Zen July 21, 2011 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    This post isn’t only useful for finding an ideal place to buy gelato – but it’s also ideal for keeping in mind of what kind of ice cream to buy as well. Artificial colors and chemical additives are what gives most ice cream flavors an attractive coloring but some natural ice cream brands don’t have this attractive coloring! I noticed it in Haagen Daz’s mint ice cream – which doesn’t have chemical additives in most of it’s flavors especially the Five line.

  29. Pigneto Dweller July 22, 2011 at 10:31 am - Reply

    The next time you’re in Pigneto I highly recommend that you check out Fattori (via Alberto da Giussano, 80). Of course everyone’s neighborhood gelateria is “the best”, but I’ve been to just about all of the big names in Rome and I’m still convinced that Fattori is the best.

  30. shayma July 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    i love this article, Katie. i wish you had written it back in 2002 when i moved to Rome, bec i ate quite a lot of Blue Ice- my Roman friends used to take me there, the one in Testaccio. now it is only Ciampini and Giolitti for me. x shayma

  31. […] Judge a Gelateria in 7 Easy Steps […]

  32. Sarah May July 23, 2011 at 10:57 am - Reply

    I judge by the color of banana, fig, pistacchio, and mint. As for the sign, i think it depends where you are. We country folk are quite impressed by signs and cardboard cutouts, but you Roman folk may be a bit more cosmopolitan. We also like Neon signs for some reason. Also bikini clad gals in photos with gelato and cars seem to lure us in. My favorite place in Genzano is straight out of the 1950s. The people are rude, old, and have a chip on their shoulder, but their chunks of fruit in the strawberry or the NOT green pistacchio say it all.
    I hate Giolitti, Blue Ice took over one of my favorite gelatarias in Rome near the Pantheon a few years ago. One of my ex friendswho thinks she is you (as a writer) wrote about the best gelateria in Rome including Della Palma. Ew, Just Eww.
    BTW I hate when people like Mario( who is no doubt a chip on the shoulder Italian) get all huffy when we gourmands have an opinion about Italian food. They seem to limit their hatred for foreign women I have noticed. Dude, we know what we are talking about as many of us have been schooled in food and wine RIGHT HERE IN ITALY, dumbshit. Mario likely works at Blue Ice.

    I recently had DIVINE fig gelato at Fior di Luna.

  33. Nan @ LivingVenice July 24, 2011 at 10:51 am - Reply

    Ciao Katie! My problem is that I think it’s a little cheeky to walk into a gelateria in a country where I am a guest and ask to see the list of ingredients (maybe if it’s your job, or after you’ve lived here awhile…) For better or worse, some of the best gelato in Venice has green mint — and I’d never run away from it. I try to be only moderately extremist where gelato is concerned — read how bad sugar is for you lately? 😉

    I just taste it. It doesn’t take long be able to distinguish the best stuff from the rest — plus word gets around pretty fast. That, and I know lots of the proprietors personally and how much satisfaction they take in producing the best gelato they know how, on the premises. I think these folks are pretty easy to spot.

    To each his own gelato, as always, though…saluti da Venezia!

  34. […] A regularly recurring one is gelato. Over the past few months of intensive gelato research, I reached some conclusions about the state of gelato in Italy, Rome in particular. I know this is an unpopular stance, but I maintain that most of the […]

  35. ebru July 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    Hi, thanks for the post on my favorite subject – gelato… Speaking of which do you know of any good gelato courses in Rome or any other bigger Italian city?

    Thank you and greetings from Istanbul

  36. […] there are so many different types of gelati. And if you’ve been living in Italy for a while, you can tell more or less tell by sight if it was handmade (artigianale) or not. Firstly, the gelati doesn’t look overly […]

  37. Vincent August 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    not to be a pain, but I found this photo of Gelateria del Teatro, one your favs, they use a nice big cono with gelato artigianale piled high to entice unsuspecting tourists into their shop.

    dunno, maybe the cone thing is bit over the top…just saying. check out the link http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/02/36/ca/38/yum.jpg

    • Katie August 10, 2012 at 11:09 am - Reply

      haha yeah they do have a cone at the original location don’t they? it’s hand painted tho. i dont think it is to attract unsuspecting visitors but those looking for it all lost on the back streets of piazza navona. maybe?

  38. Keith May 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    I have a funny story for you. A friend of mine from Sicily came to Rome a week ago, and I took him around and showed him the sights. It was one of those warmer days, and he wanted a gelato. We are passing by Della Palma, and my friend starts to go inside. I see the name, and I’m saying aloud to myself but softly, “Della Palma, Della Palma…why does that name sound so familiar?” We are at the cashier paying, and my friend says “Why do you keep repeating the name?” And I replied “It seems familiar to me” even though I had never been there. Anyway, my friend is about to pay for our gelato when I scream aloud “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” and freak everyone out inside, my friend included and definitely the cashier, and then I drag him out of the gelateria back onto the street. My friend, thinking I am crazy, asks “Why did you do that? What is wrong with you?” Now I am laughing because I remembered reading about Della Palma on your blog, and I tell him: “I read some not so good things about the gelato her on a blog about Rome. I can’t let you do that to yourself or to me!”

    So your blog post saved us from eating that chemical laden gelato just in time! 🙂 Thanks so much!

  39. […] before I go into more details, head over to Katie Parla’s blog and read her post on gelato shops in Rome, where you can find the most reliable information about food, restaurants and gelato in the Eternal […]

  40. […] that works offline. And if low-tech gelato hunts are more your speed, be sure to brush up on how to judge gelato in 7 easy steps and these tips for finding natural gelato in […]

  41. […] Judge a Gelateria in 7 Easy Steps – Parla Food […]

  42. […] Tip: Do yourself a favour and check this perfect guide on how to avoid gelateria-traps in Rome (and in other cities). Thumbs up for Katie […]

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