Italian Gelato Flavors: What You Need to Know

Italy Explained: Gelato ebook

I am a strong advocate of having gelato twice a day when you’re in Italy. Why? It’s an inexpensive treat, for one, and it gives you a chance to interact with Italians while simultaneously expanding your vocabulary. Because, after all, you’re not going to order the same gelato flavor over and over again, are you?

Of course not. Because you’re an adventurer. Because you’re curious about life. And? Because you’ll be armed with this list of Italian gelato flavors, how to pronounce them, and what they mean.

Don’t miss my primer on how to order gelato, too, to complete your gelateria education!


Gelateria || creative commons photo by Trishhhh

Gelateria || creative commons photo by Trishhhh

The Italian word for chocolate is cioccolato (cho|koh|LAH|toh), but of course the Italians would never be content to leave it at one kind of chocolate. There are multiple versions of chocolate, from varying degrees of dark-to-milk-to-white to other flavors being added to the recipe. There’s even a gelateria in Milan that specializes in chocolate gelato, with nearly all of the containers in the case devoted to one form of chocolate or another. In short, if you’re a chocoholic, you’ll have plenty to choose from in Italian gelato.

  • cioccolato fondente (cho|koh|LAH|toh fon|DEN|teh) – This is Italian for “dark chocolate,” and you can usually tell right away that’s what it is by its darker (sometimes nearly-black) color. There’s an even darker version, called cioccolato fondente extra noir.
  • cioccolato al latte (cho|koh|LAH|toh ahl LAH|tay) – This is “milk chocolate,” for those of you who aren’t dark chocolate aficionados. (Honestly, I don’t understand you, but – hey! – more dark chocolate for me!)
  • bacio (BAH|chyo) – This word actually means “kiss,” but the gelateria isn’t trying to get fresh with you. Just as Hershey’s has its signature Kiss, the Perugina chocolate company from Perugia in Umbria has its Bacio. The candies are a mix of chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, and the bacio gelato flavor is a chocolate-hazelnut combination. Because the candies themselves have bits of hazelnuts in them, the gelato usually does, too.
  • gianduja or gianduia (jahn|DOO|yah) – It can be spelled either way, although it’s pronounced the same. Like bacio, this is another chocolate-hazelnut combination. This time, it’s completely smooth, and it’s always milk chocolate. It’s the signature flavor of the Piedmont region, and is the historic precursor to Nutella.
  • cioccolato all’arancia (cho|koh|LAH|toh ahl|ah|RAHN|cha) – Do you guys remember those chocolate oranges you’d get at Christmas? The ones you’d crack against a table to break into segments? Yeah, that’s what this flavor – chocolate orange – reminds me of. It’s usually a dark chocolate with an intense orange flavor, sometimes also including little bits of candied orange peel.
  • cioccolato con peperoncini (cho|koh|LAH|toh kohn peh|pehr|ohn|CHEE|nee) – Maybe you’re thinking of those pickled green peppers you sometimes get with sandwiches, but that’s not what “peperoncini” is in this case. This is essentially a chocolate (usually dark chocolate) infused with a hot pepper flavor. I’ve also heard of a similar kind of flavor called cioccolato all’azteca (cho|koh|LAH|toh ahl|az|TEH|kah), which is akin to Mexican hot chocolate, infused with both a hot peppery flavor and cinnamon.


Gelato Giusto || creative commons photo by Bruno Cordioli

Gelato Giusto || creative commons photo by Bruno Cordioli

This is not really the ideal heading for this section (gelato is made with whole milk, not cream), but these are flavors that don’t really fit in the other categories. There are several variations on what we might just lump together as “vanilla,” plus several others that I think of as fairly malleable – they complement a wide variety of other flavors, if you’re looking for good go-to options for flavor combinations.

  • fior di latte (FYOR dee LAH|tay) – This literally means “flower of milk,” and it’s a very subtle flavor. Not quite vanilla, it’s more akin to what you might call “sweet cream.” It can serve as the base from which many other flavors are built, and it’s also really lovely on its own.
  • crema (KREH|mah) – This means “cream,” and you might find it similar to the ice cream flavor called “French vanilla” in other parts of the world. It’s a more eggy custard flavor, as opposed to a milk custard.
  • vaniglia (vah|NEEL|yah) – Here’s the Italian word for “vanilla,” which may be a popular ice cream flavor elsewhere, but in Italy it’s not very common (perhaps because there are so many other kinds of vanilla-like flavors available).
  • zabaione or zabaglione (zah|bah|YOH|neh, zah|bahl|YOH|neh) – This is a popular Italian dessert, a lightly whipped eggy custard flavored with Marsala wine, that’s often so liquidy as to be drinkable. The gelato form is eggy, custardy, Marsala-y – and delicious.
  • cocco (KOH|koh) – This is Italian for “coconut,” but the recipe varies from shop to shop. Sometimes it’s a creamy and light coconut flavor, sometimes there are bits of coconut in the gelato, sometimes it’s a little like toasted coconut.
  • caffè (kah|FEH) – You might be getting familiar with this word from ordering your morning coffee every day, but why not take your afternoon coffee in gelato form?
  • amarena (ah|mah|REH|nah) – This flavor could sort of go in a couple different categories, but I’m putting it here because it’s a cream base. The word means, more or less, “sour cherry,” and it’s typically fior di latte with sour cherries in a thick syrup swirled throughout. I don’t think the cherries are really very sour, but it’s also not cloyingly sweet, so maybe that’s all the “sour” part means. The cherries themselves are like the gorgeous brandied cherries you sometimes get in a nice cocktail. You may not get a whole cherry in your scoop, but you’ll definitely get their flavor.


Gelato Siciliano || creative commons photo by Salvatore Freni Jr

Gelato Siciliano || creative commons photo by Salvatore Freni Jr

While all of the flavors on this list will be sold in what’s called a gelateria, a fruit flavor made without dairy isn’t technically a gelato – it’s a sorbetto (sorbetti in the plural form). You might be expecting a strawberry gelato to be a creamy base with strawberry chunks in it – like most ice cream – but instead it’s strawberry throughout, blended smooth and frozen with a few other ingredients. The result is a wallop of flavor, so intense you’ll swear they just froze the fruit solid. A sorbetto can be extremely refreshing on a hot day, too.

  • fragola (FRAH|go|lah) – Strawberry
  • lampone (lahm|POH|neh) – Raspberry
  • pesca (PEHS|kah) – Peach
  • albicocca (al|bee|KOH|kah) – Apricot
  • pera (PEH|rah) – Pear
  • limone (lee|MOH|neh) – Lemon
  • lime (LEE|meh) – Lime (quite rare)
  • arancia (ah|RAHN|cha) – Orange
  • mandarino (mahn|dah|REE|noh) – Mandarin orange
  • tarocco (tah|ROH|koh) – Blood orange (not very common)
  • mela (MEH|lah) – Apple
  • mela verde (MEH|lah VEHR|deh) – Green apple
  • frutti di bosco (FROO|tee dee BOHS|koh) – This means “fruits of the forest,” and is usually a mix of things like blueberries and blackberries.
  • mirtillo (meer|TEEL|oh) – Blueberry
  • melone (meh|LOH|neh) – Melon, typically cantaloupe
  • cocomero (koh|KOH|meh|roh) or anguria (ahn|GOOR|yah) – Watermelon
  • fico (FEE|koh) – Fig
  • visciola (VEESH|yo|lah) – Sour cherry (not to be confused with amarena, this is the sorbetto version, with just fruit and no cream base)
  • ananas (AHN|ahn|ahs) – Pineapple
  • mango (MAHN|goh) – Mango
  • banana – (bah|NAH|nah) – This is just what you think it is. This is also, incidentally, one of the flavors that’s a good indicator of the quality of a shop’s gelato. Banana should be a pale creamy color, not bright yellow.


Pappalecco Gelato || creative commons photo by Kimberly Vardeman

Pappalecco Gelato || creative commons photo by Kimberly Vardeman

Nut flavors often get combined with the chocolate or cream flavors listed above, but some also exist on their own as very popular gelato flavors. Note that while most Italians know what peanuts and peanut butter are nowadays, it’s not a commonly found nut in Italy. You’re unlikely to see it as a gelato flavor.

  • pistacchio (pee|STAHK|yoh) – This is exactly what you think it is, it’s just pronounced differently in Italian than English (it’s a hard K sound insted of an SH sound). Like banana, this is another indicator of a gelateria’s quality – if the pistacchio is a pale, dusty green, that’s a good thing. Bright green is not good.
  • mandorla (mahn|DOR|lah) – Almond
  • nocciola (noh|CHYO|lah) – Hazelnut
  • castagna (kahs|TAHN|yah) – Chestnut (not very common)
  • noce (NOH|cheh) – Walnut

Say what?

Puffo Gelato || creative commons photo by romana klee

Puffo Gelato || creative commons photo by romana klee

Some gelato flavors defy categorization – maybe because they don’t have a counterpart that’s familiar outside Italy, they’re based on a European candy bar or dessert, or they’re novelty flavors that aren’t very common. In any case, this isn’t a complete list of all the strange gelato flavors you might see, but it’s a start. And if you know of some other oddballs that I don’t have listed here, please let me know!

  • stracciatella (strah|chya|TEL|lah) – This is something like the Italian version of vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips. They start with a base of fior di latte, and usually drizzle warm chocolate over the top of the freshly-made gelato. The chocolate hardens quickly on the cold surface, and then they stir the whole thing to miss the bits of chocolate into the gelato. The pieces, therefore, are not uniform – but the quality of the chocolate is usually excellent.
  • malaga (mah|LAH|gah) – Rum raisin
  • torrone (toh|ROH|neh) – Nougat
  • menta (MEN|tah) – Mint
  • cantucci (kahn|TOO|chee) – These are Tuscan almond cookies, often served with vin santo (you may also see the flavor listed as cantucci vin santo, meaning the gelato is flavored with the sweet wine, too).
  • cookies (COO|keez) – Cookies and cream
  • zuppa inglese (TSOO|pah een|GLEH|zeh) – This means “English soup.” Stay with me for a minute, and it’ll all make sense. Perhaps you’ve heard of the English dessert called “trifle?” Where a giant serving bowl is filled with alternating layers of sponge cake and custard? That’s been loosely translated into gelato – “soup” because, I’m guessing, of the enormous serving bowl the thing comes in. The base is similar to crema, it’s sometimes flavored with a sweet wine such as sherry or medeira, and in place of the sponge cake there are bits of cookies throughout.
  • riso (REE|zoh) – This means rice, but it’s really rice pudding. There are usually bits of cooked rice in it.
  • liquirizia (lee|kwee|REE|tzee|ah) – This is licorice, as in black licorice, and it’s not a common flavor to find. Personally, I love black licorice, so I really love finding this flavor available in a gelateria, although I have a hard time figuring out what goes with it. I end up pairing it with something like fior di latte for lack of anything else that might work, but I’ve heard that lemon goes nicely with licorice. I have yet to try that for myself, however.
  • cannella (kah|NEL|lah) – This is Italian for “cinnamon,” but it’s not a spicy hot flavor like cinnamon candy or chewing gum might be. It’s basically what the cinnamon spice tastes like, and so goes well with many fruit flavors and chocolate flavors.
  • puffo (POOF|foh) – In Italy, the cartoon Smurfs of my childhood are known as “Puffo,” and so this gelato is bright blue to match the characters. I’ve heard the flavor varies, from anise (like black licorice) to bubble gum, so if you’re curious you should ask for a taste before you decide what might go well with it.
  • Viagra (vee|AH|grah) – Another bright blue gelato you might see is called Viagra, but my friend Alessandro tells me it’s not made with the actual drug. Rather, it’s supposedly made with African herbs that are believed to have the effect of an aphrodisiac. I’ve not found any reference to the flavor of this one, however, so proceed at your own risk. (I suppose that’s true with this flavor for a number of reasons, no?)

11 responses to “Italian Gelato Flavors: What You Need to Know”

  1. Fred Oliver says:

    Hey Jessica, Regarding gelato flavored, we spent a few days in Orvieto last month and my wife fell in love with a flavor (and yes, she did order it every day, lol) but we neglected to write down the name. I thought I’d remember. It had chunks of dried fruit in it, a la fruitcake. Seems like it had “Sicilia” in the name. Ring any bells?

    • Jessica says:

      Ha! Good for your wife, getting gelato every day! It sounds like she might have been eating gelato based on a Sicilan dessert called “cassata,” which is sort of like fruitcake. It might have been called “cassata siciliana,” too. Does that sound right?

  2. Erin W. says:

    Thanks Jessica! Good info! I’m in Palermo Sicily and just had a flavor of gelato “carbognano”. Even though I’ve eaten a whole scope, I can’t tell what flavor it is haha! Do you know? Thanks!

    • Jessica says:

      Wow, I’ve never heard of that one! I did some research, & it’s the name of a town in Lazio – as well as a gelateria in Palermo: Il Signor di Carbognano. I can’t find what the flavor is, but I did see that two big crops around the town in Lazio are hazelnuts & chestnuts. Was it a nutty flavor? Or fruity? Or something else? And did you get it at Il Signor di Carbognano?

      • Erin W. says:

        Great findings! Yes, I did get it from Il Signor di Carbognano! It tasted nutty and was a cream color. I was thinking the flavor was possibly hazelnut, however there was a labeled hazelnut flavor, so it must be more. Maybe a hazelnut and chestnut combo given your findings! I will have to go back to the shop and see if they can tell me about it. (I just assumed I would be able to translate “carbognano” when I got back to wifi, not realizing it was their own special flavor). Thanks so much for your insight!

        • Jessica says:

          Yeah, I did quite a bit of creative Googling & couldn’t come up with a direct translation for the flavor – though I did find other photos from that gelateria that mentioned having the flavor there, so it’s a thing they do. If you find out, I would love to know what the flavor is!

  3. MrsTahiti says:

    We just returned from a fabulous trip to Rome and Umbria. My son has numerous allergies and we are usually able to avoid his allergens (various nuts, beans, fish, avocado), but we accidentally gave him a scoop of gelato in Rome that resulted in an allergic reaction. It was an unfamiliar flavor and I just remember that it started with the letter “f”, it was a long word and the gelato was cream color. I’d like to track down what it was to inform his allergist.

    Any thoughts on what flavor that might have been?

    • Jessica says:

      Wow, I can’t think of anything… “Fior di latte” is white, but that’s not one word… Any chance you remember what it tasted like?

  4. Peter Resch says:

    This is a very good blog on understanding gelato flavors. I linked your write up to our site so more of our readers can get a good idea of what they are ordering when they see it for the first time.
    Again, great work.

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