Historically, it was the gelato craftsman who prepared the semi-finished products in his kitchen to make his job easier during the busy season, to make up for the lack of fresh raw materials at some times of year or to standardize ingredients that are difficult to assay.
The increase in sales volumes, the legislation in force, the need to produce gelato with outstanding hygiene standards and, last but not least, the need for systematic research into meeting the needs and tastes of the consumer, saw the birth of this specific industry for hand-made gelato. Starting from the initial experience of the craftsmen, it has since become a vital link in the chain, alongside the machinery and equipment manufacturers.
As a general rule, compound ingredients can be found in all gelato parlours in the form of bases, supplements and pastes.
Bases and any supplements that might be used (designed to improve the performance of gelato in a few specific areas such as dripping, spreadability, etc.) are the highest expression of corporate research in the fields of rheology (the study of the behavior of fluids) and of emulsion. Over the years, semi-finished products have gone from being merely “service” products, i.e. neutral mixtures with dextrose and milk powder, to fat-containing products (which may be simple, pre-emulsified, or fractionated, according to the final result one wishes to obtain), proteins (foaming agents, binders, emulsifiers), fibers (soluble, partially soluble), intense sweeteners, flavorings and so on. When it comes to bases, research has also focused on finding a solution for various intolerances (using sugar-free and lactose-free bases), on following market trends on window presentations or on obtaining particularly “clean” labels (nutritionally balanced, with no additives, emulsifiers or artificial ingredients). These tools thus act as the base (hence the name) for creating a gelato that enables the expert craftsman to express the pinnacle of skill and imagination.
Pastes, on the other hand, come under the heading of flavoring compounds or flavor strengtheners. There are both simple oily pastes (hazelnut, pistachio, almonds, pine nuts) and compound ones (gianduja, white chocolate): the role of laboratories is to optimize flavor and carry out sometimes painstaking tests for hazardous pollutants (such as ochratoxins or aflatoxins) which are often too complex for small independent producers to perform. In addition, there is a whole range of other pastes where excellence means completeness and persistence of aromas and flavors, using the finest Italian produce (eggs, wine, fruit, spices, milk) creating preserves that are microbiologically pure (as they are added cold to the mixture, this is essential for product safety purposes) and can thus take pride of place within the Italian tradition and its exportability.
Finding the right combination of gelato-maker & compound ingredients is one of the factors that has made Italian gelato craftsmanship so famous, a Made in Italy product that is recognized abroad as the height of Italian quality and skill.