What is the difference between ice cream and custard?

“What’s the difference between ice cream and frozen custard?” is something you might ask yourself on a hot summer day when contemplating a trip to either Dairy Queen or Culver’s (a midwest chain that specializes in butterburgers and frozen custard). Me? If the question concerns frozen, creamy desserts, I’m likely to contemplate it any time. Case in point: It’s 35 degrees out in Chicago right now, and I’m writing about the distinction between two sugary, chilled desserts. What can I say? My taste buds listen to my sweet tooth!

While ice cream and frozen custard are pretty similar in that they are both desserts, both delicious, both creamy, and both frozen, the difference between them can be addressed along five key areas:

Ingredients

When making vanilla ice cream, I use four ingredients: heavy cream, whole milk, sugar, and vanilla. That’s it. Sure, it’s high in calories. But I’m making ice cream, not a kale loaf (not sure if that’s a thing), so I splurge, and use the high fat content dairy. As for custard, it uses all that stuff and two more particular ingredients. First, and the stars of the show, are egg yolks. The second is salt (you can use salt in ice cream too, I just don’t). To be precise, the USDA specifies that frozen custards must have 1.4 percent egg yolk and 10 percent milkfat to be considered as such. If the egg yolk content is lower, it’s officially considered an ice cream instead.

Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

David Lebovitz

Consistency/Texture

The egg yolk and salt combination in custard ensures a dense consistency and smooth texture—kind of like yogurt or pudding. Sure, ice cream can be dense and smooth, but not like frozen custard. Consider this: Some soft serve ice creams can be composed of 50 percent air. Frozen custard’s air content is significantly lower. Don’t get me wrong, I like soft serve a lot. It just has an airier texture to it than frozen custard does. It’s weird to say, but custard has a more creamy texture than ice cream.

caramel ice cream recipe

Chowhound

Serving Temperature

Did you know that the egg yolks in custard allow it to be served at a higher temperature than ice cream? You might think to yourself, “So what?” Well, if you happen to run a frozen custard stand, or local shop, like Andy’s Frozen Custard, you’ll likely spend less on refrigeration. And if you’re just a frozen custard consumer, this means a creamy, frozen dessert that will melt less than traditional soft serve ice cream. Typically, ice cream is served at 10 degrees Fahrenheit, while frozen custard is served at 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

melted ice cream dessert

Shutterstock

Preparation

If you have the right tools, like an ice cream maker, you can make ice cream, and even frozen yogurt, in about 30 minutes. Custard takes a lot longer. Why? ‘Cause of those egg yolks. In order to ensure the safety of the eggs, and achieve the proper texture, you have to dissolve ingredients, temper/heat your custard mixture, then cool it down, then freeze it. This takes a lot longer than the process required for ice cream—dissolving sugar in heavy cream and whole milk, sprinkling in some vanilla, pouring the mixture into your ice cream machine, and waiting about 25 minutes. All told, custard, on the other hand, could take four and a half hours, or even a full day.

Brownie Ice Cream Parfaits

Chowhound

Nutritional Content

I’m not really sure you can say that ice cream or frozen custard are health foods. That being said, custard seems to be a healthier option. On average, it tends to have less fat, fewer calories, and more protein. I mean, if you’re really concerned, your best bet is frozen yogurt. Actually, if you’re really really concerned, you should just have a piece of fresh fruit.

Are you a fan of chilled desserts? Then you’ve probably encountered ice cream and frozen custard and wondered, “What’s the difference?” After reading this article, I’m sure you feel better equipped to answer that question. As the weather gets warmer, hopefully you get to sample all sorts of creamy frozen desserts, from French made ice cream, soft serve, frozen yogurt, and frozen custard. I know they’re high-fat, high-calorie foods, but they’re also high in something else—goodness. Interested in making your own? Try this Vanilla Bean Ice Cream recipe, or this Frozen Custard recipe—or both!

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Related Video: How to Make a Superfood-Infused Ice Cream with Moringa

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Greg is a Chicago guy who likes to cook, dine, and help others navigate their food choices. Why? Because food is an integral part of our lives, and he's the best version of himself when he's well fed. When he's not writing for Chowhound, he's writing about handling the domestic responsibilities of a husband and stay-at-home parent for his new online community. Visit philosophyofdad.com.
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