Creamy. Cool. Sweet. Satisfying. I could be describing ice cream, or I could be describing custard. The truth is, they’re both very similar, and even the most serious sweet tooth among us might have trouble telling them apart in a blind taste test. Yet, they are two distinctly different frozen dairy treats. Here’s proof:
They have different ingredients
Ice cream is typically made with milk, cream, sugar, vanilla or other flavorings and occasionally a pinch of salt. Custard is made with all of those ingredients plus egg yolks. Eggs help make the custard mixture thicker and the flavor smooth and rich. The FDA regulates these terms. To be considered a frozen custard, the product must have at least 1.4 percent egg yolk and 10 percent milkfat. If the egg yolk content is any lower than 1.4 percent, it immediately drops to ice cream status.
They have slightly different consistencies and texture
Because the proteins in eggs act as a thickener, custard is a more gelatinous frozen dessert than ice cream. It also has much less air churned in it, so it’s noticeably denser and creamier — closer to pudding or even yogurt in texture. Some ice creams, like soft serve, can have as much as 50 percent air churned in, giving them their lighter, icier texture.
The machine matters
The frozen treats are made using different machinery. A professional ice cream machine churns air into the ice cream as it freezes. It’s then placed in a freezer to firm up before it’s scooped and served at a later date. But a professional custard machine works as little air into the mixture as possible. The custard is then typically served immediately — more like a soft-serve in this sense.
Preparation times differ
Ice cream and custard are two different desserts, so their prep times vary, too. You can have ice cream ready from start to finish in about 30 minutes, but cooking those eggs in the custard and dissolving the other ingredients takes time. If done right, custard can take anywhere from four to 24 hours to prepare.
We’re not talking about a kale smoothie here — Both are going to fall firmly in the category of “occasional treat.” However, if you’re really looking for a healthy silver lining, custard will most likely have more calcium and protein because of the eggs and amount of milk or cream per bite.
Learn more about the differences between gelato, soft serve, frozen dairy desserts and more.