What's the Difference Between Custard and Ice Cream?

Here's everything you need to know about what sets the two frozen treats apart.

difference between custard and ice cream
Jennifer Davick

We can all agree that nothing beats an ice-cold dessert on a warm afternoon. And while you may automatically reach for the first treat that emerges from the freezer (no judgment here!), it's time to finally get educated about the difference between ice cream and frozen custard. Once you get up to speed on what's what, you can start whipping up your own delicious homemade ice cream and then moving on to your PhD—making ice cream sandwiches. Learning is fun, right?!

Through the Years

Ice cream dates back a ways—we're talking Alexander the Great—but the treat that we have come to know and love started to be produced in the U.S. around the 1850s. Americans have been screaming for their ice cream ever since. When you're in the freezer section of your grocery store, staring at a number of selections, most of them are going to be ice cream.

Custard is the the younger, richer cousin of ice cream. It was invented in Coney Island, New York, in 1919 by brothers Archie, Clair, and Elton Kohr, and its popularity grew (particularly in the Midwest) after its debut at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. You can still find it at Kohr Brothers locations on the East Coast, local mom-and-pop shops across the country, as well as major chains like Culver’s and Shake Shack.

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Jennifer Davick

So What's Difference Between Custard and Ice Cream?

Ice cream and custard are both made from cream or milk and sugar. They come in a wide array of flavors and can be served on cones, in cups, or as shakes. But according to the FDA, one key difference sets the two apart: It’s all about the yolks. Ice cream contains at least 10 percent milkfat and less than 1.4 percent egg yolk, while custard contains at least 10 percent milkfat but must have more than 1.4 percent egg yolk.

What's Up with Overrun?

Overrun—basically the amount of air that's beaten into ice cream or frozen custard—is another defining characteristic, and the two are prepared using different methods. Ice cream machines mix in more air for a fluffier result, and custard machines incorporate very little air for a creamier texture. Ice cream can have up to 100 percent overrun (meaning one gallon of ice-cream base makes two gallons of finished ice cream after the air is incorporated), while custard typically has around 20 percent. The good news? No matter the overrun, your cup runneth over whether you're getting to enjoy ice cream or custard. Class dismissed.

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