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What is Italian three color ice cream?

Ice cream is a beloved frozen dessert enjoyed all over the world. But perhaps no country is more passionate about ice cream than Italy. Gelato, as it’s called in Italy, is an artform with many regional variations. One of the most iconic Italian ice cream styles is the tricolore – a combination of three colors representing the colors of the Italian flag: red, white, and green.

The Origins of Tricolore Gelato

The roots of tricolore gelato can be traced back to the late 1800s in the Sicilian city of Messina. Francesco Procopio Cutò, who opened the first gelateria in Paris, is credited with inventing the tricolor treat. As an Italian immigrant living in Paris, Procopio Cutò wanted to create an ice cream that celebrated his homeland. Using pistachio, cream, and strawberry flavors for the green, white, and red layers, his gelato mimicked the Italian flag.

The tricolore gelato became popularized nationally after the creation of the Italian Republic following World War II. The newly unified country adopted the three colors as the official flag, and gelato makers started offering the patriotic frozen treat. It was seen as a symbol of Italian pride and has remained a classic flavor combination ever since.

The Layering Technique

Crafting the perfect tricolore gelato requires a layering technique. First, the white cream base is spread into the container. Next, strawberry gelato is carefully spread on top. Finally, pistachio paste or sauce is drizzled over to create the green layer sandwiched between the other two. The layers remain distinctly visible though some blending occurs during the freezing process. When served, the cross-section reveals the colors of the Italian flag.


While the colors remain consistent, recipes can vary when it comes to the exact ingredients. Here are some of the key components that go into each layer:

White Layer

  • Heavy cream or milk
  • Sugar
  • Egg yolks
  • Vanilla extract
  • Mascarpone cheese (in some recipes)

Red Layer

  • Strawberries
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Water

Green Layer

  • Pistachio paste
  • Pistachios
  • Sugar
  • Milk or cream

The ingredients are combined and chilled thoroughly before being layered and frozen solid. Stabilizers like gelatin or guar gum help maintain the distinct colored stripes.

Unique Flavor Profile

When combined, the flavors of tricolore gelato are greater than the sum of their parts. The creamy vanilla base mellows out the tart strawberry swirl. And the earthy roasted pistachio balances with its sweetness. With each bite, you get an interplay of all three flavors and textures.

The trio of pistachio, strawberry, and cream has become a distinctive flavor profile that is difficult to replicate with other ingredients. While creative riffs on the tricolore exist, the classic combination remains the gold standard.

Regional Variations

Like many Italian foods, tricolore gelato takes on regional nuances. Some key differences include:

Region Variation
Sicily Bright, tart blood oranges used instead of strawberries
Naples Hazelnut gelato used for the white layer
Rome Pistachio cream added to the green layer
Florence Strained strawberry puree for a smoother red layer

These regional spins on tricolore gelato highlight the diversity of Italian gelato. But no matter where in Italy you try it, the flavors evoke the country’s national pride.

Where to Eat Tricolore Gelato in Italy

From small villages to major cities, tricolore gelato can be found throughout Italy. Some top destinations for enjoying this iconic treat include:

  • Rome – Gelateria Della Palma, Gelateria Fatamorgana, Otaleg!
  • Florence – Gelateria La Carraia, Gelateria dei Neri, Vivoli
  • Venice – Gelato Di Natura, Gelateria Ca D’Oro, Fantasia Gelati
  • Naples – Casa Infante, Gelateria Matese, Gelateria Mennella
  • Palermo – Gelati DiVini, Pandolce Gelati, Gelati Ilardo

At these gelaterias, you can try outstanding versions of tricolore using local ingredients and techniques. A taste will transport you right to Italy.

Serving Suggestions

Italians have perfected the art of serving gelato in ways that highlight its colors and textures:

  • Serve in a clear dish to showcase the stripes and layers.
  • Use a long, flat spoon to pull up the gelato vertically.
  • Top with an Italian hazelnut wafer for crunch.
  • Pair with espresso or affogato (gelato with espresso poured over).
  • For events, use scoops to create an Italian flag pattern in a gelato pan.

Tricolore Gelato Around the World

The popularity of tricolore gelato has spread beyond Italy to gelato shops around the world. Some places where you can now enjoy this iconic Italian frozen dessert include:

  • United States – Gelato shops in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago
  • Australia – Gelatissimo shops
  • United Kingdom – Gelato Village in London
  • Canada – Bella Gelateria in Vancouver
  • Argentina – Una Altra Volta in Buenos Aires
  • Japan – Talenti Gelato e Caffè

Thanks to globalization, it’s easier than ever to get a taste of classic Italian tricolore gelato without leaving your hometown.

How to Make Your Own

Want to recreate the magic of tricolore gelato at home? Here is a basic recipe to try:


White Layer:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Red Layer:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water

Green Layer:

  • 1 cup pistachio paste
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract


  1. Make the white layer by heating cream, sugar, and egg yolks over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Make the red layer by cooking the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water over medium heat. Mash strawberries and cook until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and refrigerate until chilled.
  3. Make the green layer by whisking together pistachio paste, milk, sugar, and almond extract until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled.
  4. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Spread the white gelato in evenly. Top with strawberry sauce, then pistachio gelato. Use a knife to swirl and marble the layers a bit.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze 4-6 hours or overnight until solid.
  6. Remove from freezer and let sit 5 minutes before slicing to serve.

With this method, you can create a beautiful tri-color gelato at home that would make any Italian proud. The flavor combinations will transport you right to the piazzas of Italy with each bite!


Italian tricolore gelato is a frozen treat that is much more than the sum of its parts. The pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla combination creates a one-of-a-kind flavor profile that deliciously represents the Italian flag. While the classic version originated in Sicily, the regional diversity of Italian gelato is on full display in the many variations found today. From the traditional gelaterias of Italy to the new wave of artisanal shops worldwide, gelato lovers can experience this iconic Italian dessert and savor a bite of Italian culture and pride. Though difficult to fully replicate at home, recipes and techniques can allow you to come close to the magic of authentic tricolore. There’s perhaps no better way to celebrate the red, white and green colors of Italy than with a cold, creamy, tricolored cone.