Is it Ice Cream?
Short answer = no.
What Is Italian Ice?
Italian Ice is a frozen dessert made with water, sweetener and fruit, and fruit is optional. It may be fruit juices or concentrates or other similar flavorings instead. Depending on what part of the country you are in, Italian Ice can also be called water ice. However, whatever part of the country you are in, it is never to be referred to as shaved ice, although people that don’t know any better, often do. In some places that is considered an insult. Wars have been fought over lesser things! Okay, that might be a stretch, but you get the idea. Shaved ice is just what is sounds like; ice shavings with a syrup poured over it. There is no art to it. No generational recipes. No skill or knowledge required. Just a rotating razor to shave the block of ice and a bottle of syrup. Shaved ice is most often compared to a snow cone.
Italian Ice is made by freezing the ingredients while mixing them. which is similar to the way ice cream and sherbet is made, however they use dairy or egg products with air whipped into it and the Italian Ice uses neither. The absence of the whipped air is what makes the Italian Ice a denser and more flavorful frozen confection. Italian Ice is more often compared to sorbet because of it’s similar ingredients of water sugar and fruit. The biggest difference between the two is the texture. The sorbet will typically have a creamier, smoother texture whereas the Italian Ice may feel a little grainier for lack of a better word. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule. Depending on the quality, Italian Ice can have an extremely smooth texture. The smoothness is attributed to the ratio of sugar and fruit, or flavoring, to the ice.
What makes the Italian Ice unique is the way it crushes the ice while the ingredients are freezing. The cheaper versions of Italian Ice just add flavoring or fruit concentrate to a shaved or crushed ice. This creates a grittier texture than the higher quality brands because it does not represent an accurate method of preparation that would differentiate authentic Italian Ice.
The modern day Italian Ice is thought to have come from a dessert in Sicily called granita, which is a semi-frozen concoction with a coarser, more crystalline texture. The story goes that just about 100 years ago, on a warm summer day, in a city in New Jersey, a woman grew nostalgic for her hometown in Italy. Her response was to try to recreate a frozen dessert from her childhood days. The result was a much smoother version of the Sicilian Granita. With a sweet/tart taste of sugar and fresh squeezed lemon, it became an immediate hit with friends and family. This tradition has carried on ever since, with many a company duplicating this process. Some of the more mainstream flavors today include cherry, strawberry, blue raspberry, watermelon, orange, and lemon, with lemon being the true test of authenticity and quality. Then add some tropical flavors such as coconut and mango, and designer flavors like cotton candy and sour apple and you have a treat that reaches beyond borders and appeals to everyone. So the next time you are at a festival or carnival or another similar event make sure to ask if they are serving “Real Italian Ice.”