Ice creams and custards are almost universally beloved desserts, and you can find versions of these two delicious sugary treats all over the world, but what is it that actually makes them different? 

For the purpose of this article, we do need to make one quick distinction, there are some kinds of savory dishes that are called custards, and they are similar to sweet custards in a lot of ways. But, for this article, we’re not discussing savory custards, just the sweet ones that are most similar to ice creams. 

Want to find out what makes these desserts different, and amaze friends and family with your trivia knowledge the next time you have an ice cream Sunday or visit a frozen custards shop? Well, you’re in the right place! 

Ice CreamCustard
IngredientsMilk or cream or water, sugar, and flavoringMilk or cream, sugar, flavoring, and eggs
OriginChinaThe United Kingdom
Can it be baked? Not reallyYes!

What is Ice Cream

Ice cream cone with strawberry ice cream and yellow background
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Ice cream is pretty versatile, to the shock of everyone who is used to getting a box of ice cream at the grocery store and not thinking too much of it. The different balances of ingredients, as well as how the ice cream is mixed and served can all have a big impact on the taste and texture of the finished dessert, but there are two things that all ice cream has in common. 

All ice cream is frozen, and they all contain a combination of either milk or water with flavoring and sweeteners. Sugar is the most common sweetener, but it’s far from the only option. Though, using a sugar alternative sometimes means needing to include other ingredients to get the desired textures. 

A lot of people exclude flavored ices from ice cream, but we’ll give the ices a bit of a pass since there are more of them than ever, and a lot of ice recipes rely on the same techniques and principles as making ice cream. 

Different Types of Ice Cream?

When you think of the different balances of ingredients and different ways to create and serve ice cream there are actually 13 distinct and identifiable types of ice cream. 

Some of these are plain ice creams, while others are partially defined by the additional ingredients that are added to the main recipe, or mixed in just before serving. 

Some, like mochi, are a pretty standard ice cream wrapped in something else that makes them unique! 

We can’t go into all the different types of ice cream here, but you’ll probably recognize a large percentage of the names and know what they mean. 

  • Gelato
  • Soft Serve
  • Sherbet
  • Sorbet
  • Frozen Yogurt
  • Popsicles
  • Italian Ice
  • Kulfi
  • Mochi
  • Philadelphia Ice Cream
  • Rolled Ice Cream
  • Falooda
  • Shaved Ice

Something important to remember about ice creams in general? These dishes are all about the proportions of the ingredients. For instance, gelato uses more milk and less cream than other kinds of ice creams, hails from Italy, and requires a delicate mix of ingredients to get the velvety texture it’s known for. 

Sorbet, on the other hand, has little or no dairy, which gives it a lighter mouth-feel and makes it a wonderful option for fruity flavors. It can also be made with alcohol like wine or liqueur, which can curdle other forms of ice cream. Not the ideal way to enjoy a refreshing dessert! 

How Do You Make Ice Cream? 

Ice cream is typically made in a two-step process, combining the ingredients, and then gradually freezing them with lots of air mixed in to create the recognizable taste and textures of ice cream. 

Ices, on the other hand, usually just involve freezing the ingredient mix, and then shaving off thin layers of the ice before serving.

The trick is in freezing the ice cream mix while it’s moving, and ensuring that the right amount of air gets into the mix. The air makes the ice cream thicker, smoother, helps it melt faster when you eat it, and actually makes ice cream taste sweeter than it would without all the extra space between molecules. 

That means that ice cream needs to be churned or somehow stirred or frothed while freezing, which is why ice cream makers are so important in this process. 

Delicious Ice Cream Ingredients

Ice cream ingredients include all different kinds of milk, fruits, flavorings, and yes, sometimes unorthodox ingredients like vegetables, liquors, and even bacon. Yes, bacon! 

If there is a flavor combination you like, it’s probably been made into ice cream. Even some savory flavors have been turned into modern ice creams, though their success has been more limited than the traditional sweet options. 

Great Ice Cream Recipes You Should Try

Delish has a fantastic ice cream-in-a-bag recipe that can be made with almost any flavor combination, in a single serving, and without needing any special equipment other than two plastic bags, ice, and salt. This is the perfect intro to ice cream recipe if you want to make it yourself. 

If you have an ice cream maker or good blender though, this Taste Of Home vanilla ice cream is a great recipe by itself, or can also be used as a base for making other flavors with a little experimentation. 

What Is Custard?

Custards are very similar to ice cream, but with two core differences that are important to remember. One, is that all custards contain eggs, sometimes just egg yolks, but sometimes the whole egg. They can also be either baked or frozen, and some custards are cooked on the stove before being frozen. 

They tend to be richer in taste and texture than ice creams, but a little less versatile when it comes to flavoring. After all, richer tastes mean that you can’t add just any old ingredient and hope it works. It has to be able to shine with the richer dairy and egg taste and texture of the custard. 

Different Styles Of Custard

There are three basic types of custards, and all of them are popular and delicious in different ways. 

  • Baked: Made with whole eggs, baked custards are often served warm or room temperature. Two examples are flan and crème brulee, which are both popular Western desserts. 
  • Stirred: Stirred custards are runnier than baked custards, often only use the yolk, and can be served hot, at room temperature, or frozen. 
  • Steamed: Steamed custards are prepared and then baked or carefully steamed in a dish. They can be either sweet or savory, and are a common staple of Asian cuisines. Can also be made with coconut milk instead of traditional dairies. 

How Do You Make Custard? 

The trick of custard is adding eggs, and getting the right texture instead of creating a milky scrambled egg. That means that they often need to be heated slowly, and also that you have to control the proportion of ingredients carefully, and how long you cook it. Otherwise you might get a split custard, that has both runny and hard parts, a scrambled egg texture that’s grainy and clumpy instead of smooth, o a custard that curdles and forms cheese-like curds instead of a smooth creamy sauce. 

Custard Ingredients and Toppings To Experiment With

Custards are often delicious without other ingredients, but caramel, sugar toppings, and fruit sauces are all delicious additions to a custard. 

Top Custard Recipes You’re Sure To Love

Savory Experiments has a wonderful easy vanilla custard recipe that gets everything right, pairs beautifully with fresh fruit, and teaches a lot of the basics of making a great custard! 

Wrapping Up: What are the key differences between Ice Cream and Custard? 

Eggs might be the main difference, along with cooking style, between these two dishes, but there is a lot to love about both of them, and you can even serve a great custard with a great ice cream. Of course, you might want to make sure the portions are small since both of these desserts are rather rich!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Ice Cream Or Custard Healthier? 

Custard is probably healthier since the eggs add protein to help balance the sugar, however, neither ice cream or custard is going at the top of the healthy desserts list. 

Do You Always Cook Custard? 

Yes, the eggs and milk can’t combine properly without some heat, so it’s important to cook even chilled custards before serving. 

Do You Need An Ice Cream Maker To Make Ice Cream? 

No, though having an ice cream maker does make the process a lot easier. Often you can make the same kind of dish with just a blender, or if you know how, by hand with two pots and a lot of willpower. 

However, ice cream makers save a ton of time, otherwise you might spend hours working on it to get a single batch completed. 

Does Ice Cream Always Have Dairy? 

No, some ice creams are often made with water instead of milk or cream, and coconut, nut milks, and other alternatives can create fantastic dairy free options. They just might need an additional thickener to really bring everything together. 

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