A Creamsicle from the neighborhood ice cream truck. A soft-serve swirl cone from Rally’s. Boldly colored gelato scooped by hand. Fruity frozen yogurt in a crisp waffle cone. An absurdly rich bowl of Haagen Dazs’ Dulce De Leche ice cream.

Any of these will do if you’re craving a frozen treat. But, aside from being cold and sweet, they’re not the same. What make ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt and soft-serve ice cream unique? Glad you asked.

Ice cream is made with milk products, a sweetening agent, stabilizers to improve texture and body and sometimes solid additions such as chocolate, nuts and fruit. It has a minimum of 10 percent milk fat; ice creams that are labeled “premium” or “super-premium” usually have at least 14 percent milk fat for a richer taste and creamier texture. French ice cream has a cooked egg-custard base. Light ice cream contains less milk fat and milk solids, which produces a lowered calorie count and a lighter, less creamy texture.

When Little Rock chef Paul Novicky, who is French-trained in culinary skills, created ice cream for his restaurants Spaule and Nu, “We made a frozen custard that was crazy rich,” he said. “It gave us a palette where we could add fresh fruit, crunch, caramel—we could add different layers, textures, tastes. That was the French world of ice cream.” Merci, chef.

With gelato, Novicky said, “We’d use that for the exact opposite. Typically gelato is fruity—so strong and flavorful with fresh raspberries, fresh blueberries. Simple and elegant.”

Made with milk, water, sugar, nonfat milk solids, stabilizers, flavorings and fruit, gelato doesn’t contain as much air or butter fat (from five to seven percent) as ice cream. It’s churned more slowly and has less air whipped into it than ice cream, producing a denser product with a more intense flavor.

It’s usually served at temperatures that are 10-15 degrees warmer than ice cream, so it melts in the mouth quickly, amplifying the taste. Top-quality gelato is flavored with real fruit, nuts, chocolates, milk and cream. Not syrup.

Along with ice cream and gelato, upscale restaurants often serve sorbet, a fruit-flavored ice that can be a dessert or a palate refresher between courses, says Novicky, the chef behind Dinners to Go, which offers single-portion gourmet dinners for pickup Tuesdays-Thursdays out of the kitchen of The Anthony School.

Then there’s frozen yogurt, made with yogurt (a cultured fermented milk product) and other dairy products such as milk solids, milk fats, sugar (for sweetness as well as body and texture), gelatin, natural and artificial flavors and natural or artificial colorings. Because it’s made with milk, it’s lower in fat than ice cream; some varieties are fat-free.

When it comes to frozen yogurt in fine dining, “Except for in a cup with Gummi Bears, I can never see what the reason would be to use this with anything else,” Novicky said. “We never had a need or a reason to use frozen yogurt commercially. Except for the fact that it’s usually lower in fat, it’s not easier to make, it’s not more convenient.” So just eat it and don’t try to make it into something it’s not.

And don’t forget soft-serve ice cream, with three to six percent milk fat and a higher air content than regular ice cream, which makes it lighter in texture and flavor.

The best thing about soft-serve is that it tastes best right out of the machine that dispenses it—you can’t make it at home (unless you have a pressurized soft-serve machine) and it doesn’t refreeze well, so you’re pretty much forced to lap it up the moment you get it. Enjoy! And watch out for brain freeze.

Come And Get It

Note: Locations are in Little Rock, unless otherwise noted.

Our Favorite Ice Cream

  • Bruster’s, 14710 Cantrell Road—Quality ice cream is made in the store, as are cakes, pies and waffle cones.
  • Cold Stone Creamery, 12800 Chenal Parkway—Luxurious ice cream made fresh in the store every day and served with your choice of fruit, nuts, chocolate chunks, cake and more.
  • Loblolly Creamery at the Green Corner Store, 1423 Main St.—An old-fashioned soda fountain that uses local and organic ingredients to make small-batch ice cream in flavors such as almond cloud, Aztec chocolate and bourbon raisin.
  • Maggie Moo’s, 17821 Chenal Parkway—Watch your favorite additions – nuts, fruits or candies – hand-folded into high-quality ice cream for a custom-made treat.
  • Purple Cow, 8026 Cantrell Road and 11602 Chenal Parkway—Try the signature purple ice cream and the milkshakes (made with a shot of alcoholic beverage if you choose).

Our Favorite Gelato

Our Favorite Frozen Yogurt

  • Dreamy Spoon, 115 Audubon Drive, Maumelle—A great little shop that offers premium yogurt in over 40 flavors; serve yourself and add toppings.
  • Loganberry, 6015 Chenonceau Blvd.—Sells self-serve frozen yogurt made with fresh milk and real fruit purees in 12 flavors and dozens of toppings.
  • Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, 11525 Cantrell Road—This shop sells yogurt by the ounce; choose a container, fill it with flavors of your choice, then add toppings (nuts, fruits, brownie bites, candies) or sauce.
  • Red Mango, 5621 Kavanaugh Blvd.—A chain that offers all-natural nonfat frozen yogurt in flavors such as pomegranate, Madagascar vanilla, white peach, peanut butter, cake batter and mango.
  • TCBY, 11418 W. Markham St. and Lakewood Village Place, North Little Rock—The area’s oldest yogurt shop (the first store opened in Little Rock in 1981) and the largest frozen yogurt retailer in the country has self-serve flavors such as cheesecake, cake batter, and caramel supreme.

Our Favorite Soft-Serve

  • Rally’s, 712 Broadway—The chocolate/vanilla swirl cone is ample, tasty and perfect on a sunny summer day; eat it fast before it melts.
  • Sonic, any location—We love the tall vanilla cone and the substantial, refreshing vanilla dish, which comes in a cup with a lid, so it’s portable.