For years, the quality of gelato in Italy has been in decline, as the cost of natural ingredients has risen and local food sensibility has plummeted. That leaves consumers on their own when trying to figure out which gelatos are natural and truly artisanal. Figuring out whether a gelateria serves quality product is actually easier than you may think and is mainly based on easily observable criteria (no Italian required!). If you see any of these things, it is safe to say you are dealing with industrial garbage or chemical laden crap:
The ingredients list is hidden or not displayed: If you have to look really hard for the list of ingredients, which shops must display by law, run away.
Fluffy heaps of gelato overflowing their tubs: The airy consistence, however pretty, is obtained with chemical additives and stabilizers that allow more air to be incorporated into the mix. For examples, visit Blue Ice and Della Palma in Rome. Just don’t eat anything!
The mint is bright green: Mint gelato should be white, or extremely pale green. A natural mint gelato uses the essential oils, producing a white product, while a super pale green mint flavors (like Fatamorgana’s panacea below) uses the leaf itself.
The ingredients list has lots items beginning with E followed by a number: Gelato additives are coded (for a full list that are permitted, see this website). Some additives are natural (don’t worry about E410 or E412, carob bean flour and guar, respectively), while others are practically poison (I’d love to know what blue patent does to internal organs).
There is a giant gelato cut-out in front of the shop: No self respecting gelato artisan would buy one of these horrible signs in front of his shop. Just assume the gelato is as artisanal as the sign.
The gelateria offers “Puffo” flavor: If you see this flavor (bubble gum), run away. If the idea of bubble gum gelato isn’t revolting enough, remember that “Puffo” is the Italian word for Smurf. Scary.
Beware of the words “Artigianale” and “Produzione propria”: These words gets thrown around a lot and imply artisanal, homemade products. There are no (enforced) laws regulating how the words are used, so a gelataio could dump fat, milk, and a bunch of packets of powders, chemicals, and colorings into their gelato machine and what comes out is, technically, artisanal and homemade. And gross.