Blancmange vs Panna Cotta – Similar but Different

Blancmange vs Panna Cotta

On the surface, panna cotta and blancmange seem to have a lot in common.

They’re both creamy, wobbly, melt-in-your-mouth, easy-to-make desserts that share virtually identical ingredients.

While that is mostly true (with one small exception) there’s more to this comparison of desserts than meets the eye.

We’ll touch on all of that in a moment, but first, we’d like to point out that when we speak of blancmange for the purpose of comparison, we’ll be discussing the “traditional” version of it.

Traditional blancmange, uses starch as a thickening agent (mainly cornstarch). For some, it can be an acquired taste since the use of cornstarch does impart a slimy mouthfeel when compared to gelatin.

For this reason, today’s blancmange recipes also incorporate the use of gelatin to meet the standards of modern palates.

With that said, the primary difference between panna cotta and traditional blancmange is that Panna Cotta uses gelatin as a thickening agent whereas blancmange utilizes cornstarch.

Okay so let’s take a deeper look at what makes these special desserts so unique!

Differences in Historical Origins

The Piedmont region of Italy is internationally known for its dairy products.

In fact, this heritage stretches back for centuries so it should come as no great surprise that the deliciousness of panna cotta calls this area home.

There’s little in the way of formal details about the evolution panna cotta (in writing until the 20th century when cookbooks of the era mentioned it. Prior to that, it’s believed that panna cotta was largely a local delicacy, passed down from one generation to the next.

Today this humble dessert has found fans in nearly every part of the world but in Italy, it’s much more than that – it is revered!

So much so that in 2001, panna cotta was given a special designation when the Piedmont region recognized it as an official food product of the area.

Blancmange translated means “whitedish” and although the French term is the one most of associated with this sweet delicacy, a version of it has existed in many other cultures.

Most food historians trace the ancestry of modern blancmange to the Middle East. It’s thought that early versions of it used rice and almonds as opposed to the modern day usage of cream, sugar and gelatin.

Although blancmange is sweet today, older examples of “whitedish” preparations were often savory dishes that featured meat.

The popularity of the dish continued to grow throughout the Middle Ages, spreading to many European countries simultaneously. Among these included Spain where it was referred to as manjar blanco and Italy, where the local incarnation was called biancomangiare.

During this time, much of the consumption of it was restricted to the upper classes because of the ingredients used in its preparation. Among these were sugar, milk, fish and chicken which were often combined with rice or exotic spices like cinnamon or saffron for festive occasions to make stew.

As Europe moved out of the Middle Ages, the flavor profile of blancmange continued to evolve.

The characteristic savory dish gave way to its modern, sweet counterpart with the removal of meat and the addition of cream, eggs and starch. 

Panna Cotta Blancmange
Origin Piedmont region of Italy Middle East
Historical Use Local delicacy passed down from generation to generation Savory dish featuring meat, primarily consumed by upper classes
Modern Use Revered dessert in Italy, recognized as official food product of Piedmont region in 2001 Sweet dish made with cream, sugar, and gelatin
Ingredients Cream, sugar, and gelatin Cream, sugar, gelatin, eggs, and starch
Name Variations Biancomangiare in Italy Manjar blanco in Spain

Differences in Ingredients

Both panna cotta and blancmange are simple dishes at heart. Since they both evolved at a time when only basic ingredients were plentiful, so it makes sense that little has changed over the years.

Panna cotta’s main ingredients are sugar, cream, gelatin and vanilla.

The main ingredients for blancmange are virtually identical to panna cotta with the exception of the thickener used. While some blancmange recipes may call for the use of gelatin, many others use starches like rice flour or cornstarch.

Panna cotta only makes use of gelatin as a thickening agent.

Dish Main Ingredients Thickening Agent
Panna Cotta Sugar, Cream, Gelatin, Vanilla Gelatin
Blancmange Sugar, Cream, Vanilla Gelatin or Starches (e.g. Rice Flour or Cornstarch)

Differences in Preparation

“Cooked cream” is the rough translation of panna cotta. However, what’s interesting is that preparing it doesn’t involve very hot temperatures (as with oven cooking) but just enough to combine ingredients.

Simply, sugar is added to a mixture of warm cream. Depending on preferences, the cream may also be flavored. As for the gelatin, which imparts panna cotta’s wobbly texture, it’s prepared separately prior to being added to the cream.

After all ingredients are combined, they’re poured into molds, allowed to set and typically chilled prior to being served.

As you might expect, the method for preparing traditional blancmange is virtually identical to panna cotta with the exception of using cornstarch as the thickening agent. 

Dish Translation Temperatures Ingredients Thickening Agent Additional steps
Panna Cotta Cooked Cream Warm Sugar, Cream, Gelatin Gelatin Pour into molds, chill before serving
Blancmange Sugar, Cream Cornstarch

Differences in Taste

Since very little separates these two treasured treats, it makes sense that their modern taste profiles would be close to each other, many would say that they’re identical.

Of course, the traditional blancmange preparation will result in a different mouthfeel when cornstarch is used instead of gelatin. For some, cornstarch can impart a slimy, mildly gritty sensation on the palate so if you’re truly looking for a smooth result, it’s best to use gelatin.

Dish Taste Profile Mouthfeel
Panna Cotta Very close to Blancmange Smooth
Blancmange Very close to Panna Cotta May have a slimy, mildly gritty sensation if cornstarch is used as thickening agent
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