What distinguishes frozen or regular custard from ice cream is that custard is made up of a minimum of 1.4 percent egg yolk and has varying consistency, whereas ice cream often does not contain eggs and is always thick.

Custard ranges from runny to thick or viscous, and always has milk or cream and egg yolk; custard is also mostly made of sugar, but it can be savory as well. Ice cream is made out of cream or milk and sugar in a traditional ice cream freezer, and usually does not contain egg.

Comparison chart

Custard versus Ice Cream comparison chart
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Definition Custard is a variety of culinary preparations based on a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. American-style ice cream, which tends to be manufactured industrially by large, commercial enterprises, contains more air, milk fat, and cream than gelato does and more frequently contains preservatives and artificial flavors.
Flavors Chocolate based, fruit based, even savory. More likely to use artificial flavors and artificially-flavored candies than gelato is. Vanilla, chocolate, fruit, and nut flavors are popular. Chunks of chocolate, fruit, and nuts are common in ice cream.
Calories Fewer calories than ice cream. Ice cream has more calories than frozen yogurt, custard, or gelato.
Main ingredient(s) Milk or cream, egg yolks, sugar. Milk or cream, sugar, additives.
Saturated Fat 2g Generally higher in saturated fat—varies by ingredients and type of milk.
Procedure Cooked in a double boiler, ice cream maker ice cream maker Ice cream maker
Serving Temperature 18°F 10°F
Calcium 140 mg. Good source of calcium Gelato and ice cream are good sources of calcium—about 13-15% recommended daily intake of calcium.
Vegetarian Yes Yes
Proteins 4g (more protein because of egg) 3g Gelato and ice cream have roughly the same protein content per serving
Vegan No No
Lactose-free No No
Fat per cup 4g 11g

Consistency

Standard custard is cooked in a double boiler. The consistency of custard ranges from a thin pouring sauce to a thick pastry cream. Frozen custard is produced in a soft-serve ice cream maker, which introduces more air to the concoction than a traditional ice cream maker. The result is a dense but creamy consistency. Frozen custard may be served at 18 degrees.

Standard ice cream is made in an ice cream maker, whereas soft-serve receives more agitation. Standard ice cream is dense and creamy; soft-serve is fluffy and smooth. Ice cream is served at 10 degrees.

Variations

Standard custard comes in many variations. Egg is used to thicken a standard custard. However, a pastry cream results from adding starch. Adding a flavoring such as vanilla, chocolate, or lemon results in Crème pâtissière. If chefs add gelatin to the standard mixture, they have crème anglaise collée. All the basic ingredients of custard can be frozen in a soft-serve ice cream maker for frozen custard. Quiche is an example of a savory custard.

Bacon quiche.
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Bacon quiche.

Ice cream can be regular or soft-serve. Soft serve ice creams have less butterfat – five percent instead of the 10 percent necessary for ice cream. Soft serve ice cream also has more air introduced during freezing, which results in a light, creamy texture.

Soft serve ice cream.
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Soft serve ice cream.

Both frozen custard and standard ice cream come in a variety of flavors categorized by their base -- chocolate based, fruit based or with nuts and other novelties.

Culinary Uses

Custard offers more variety in uses. It can be used for a variety of desserts, both as the main ingredient or as the filler. Custard also serves as a savory base for quiche.

Frozen custard and ice cream may be served standalone or as the base of a sundae or banana split.

This video demonstrates how to make custard based vanilla ice cream with an ice-cream maker. If you don't have an ice-cream maker, add the liquid in a freezer-safe container and stir every 30 minutes 3 times before finally putting it in the freezer.

Brands

Frozen custard is more commonly served in restaurants and at custard stands. Popular custard stands include Gilles, Freddy's and Culvers. The brands Gilles and Abbotts also distribute ready frozen custard in grocery stores.

Ice cream is commonly served both in stands and packaged. Baskins & Robbins is a common ice cream stand. Popular brands include Breyers, Dreyers, Ben & Jerry's, Hägen-Dazs and Blue Bunny.

Nutrition

Frozen custard and ice cream are very similar nutritionally. They both contain lactose. They are vegetarian but not vegan. While the calorie count may vary with flavors, ice cream in general is likely to have more calories and fat than frozen custard: 207 calories and 11 grams of fat for 100 grams of vanilla ice cream vs. 122 calories and four grams of fat for 100 grams of frozen custard. Otherwise, both are similar in terms of calcium, protein and carbohydrates.

Lower butterfat in soft-serve ice cream reduces its calorific and fat value.

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References

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