Smoothies vs. Milkshakes: What's the Difference?

Both require tossing ingredients into a blender, so how do you know if you're making a smoothie vs. a milkshake? The difference is in the ingredients!

peach smoothies on a wood board

So you've got your blender out, and you're about to whip up a delicious drink. But what is it: a milkshake or a smoothie?

There are some key differences between these two blended beverages. Let's find out!

The Easiest Way to Tell a Smoothie from a Milkshake

There's two simple formulas that will help you decide if what you're about to consume is a smoothie or a milkshake:

Smoothies = fruit + juice or milk + yogurt + ice

Milkshakes = ice cream + milk + flavored syrup + whipped cream + toppings

Look at the main ingredients for the recipe and that will help you decide! But there are even more differences — let's talk about them.

granola on top of a green smoothie with a copper straw

What is a Smoothie?

Named for their smooth texture, a smoothie is a blended drink typically made by combining fresh fruits or frozen fruit with either milk or fruit juice and ice. Many smoothies also have yogurt and banana added to help achieve a creamy texture.

Typically considered healthy, smoothies are a great way to pack in nutritious ingredients like protein powder, peanut butter or almond butter, leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as Greek yogurt.

Smoothies have a thicker consistency and can be enjoyed with or without a straw.

However, smoothies are sometimes poured into a bowl and eaten with a spoon, which is called a "smoothie bowl." Smoothie bowls typically get toppings like granola and raw fruits, whereas regular smoothies are just a cold beverage with no toppings.

Generally served for breakfast or as a snack, smoothies tend to be filling and are often eaten as a meal replacement. Smoothies can be made at home or purchased from juice bars or chains like Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

Usually smoothies are fruity in flavor, like this green apple smoothie or this pineapple smoothie. In a fruit smoothie, a blend of fruit is the primary ingredient.

But smoothies can also take on more dessert-like flavors, such as this chocolate smoothie or this caramel smoothie, though they are still usually enjoyed first thing in the morning.

photo of an oreo milkshake in a mason jar on a blue background
Source: Adobe Stock

What is a Milkshake?

Milkshakes are a frozen, sweet beverage that is typically made with flavored syrup, scoops of ice cream and milk, then topped with whipped cream.

Unlike smoothies, a milkshake is a sweet treat served for dessert or a snack, milkshakes tend to be very sweet and made with classic ice cream flavors like vanilla, chocolate or cookies & cream.

Milkshakes can be made with just about any flavor of ice cream, even homemade ice cream like salted caramel ice cream or Crunch Bar ice cream. In fact, milkshakes with cookies and candy in them are quite common!

But like smoothies, milkshakes can take on fruity flavors too. Strawberry is a popular choice.

It's not unusual to see seasonal milkshake flavors on menus, such as pumpkin milkshakes in the fall.

Another common ingredient in these delicious treats is malted milk powder, which helps to enrich the milkshake's thick texture and gives it a nutty, toasty flavor.

Milkshakes can even get the addition of alcohol to make them into an after-dinner drink. Take this boozy peach coconut shake with rum or vodka for example. Boozy milkshakes are a fun way to enjoy an alcoholic beverage once in a while.

One can usually find milkshakes on the menu of coffee bars, soda shops and ice cream parlors like Ben & Jerry's and Baskin Robbins.

Beauty shot of strawberry smoothie jar.

Smoothies vs. Milkshakes

Milkshakes and smoothies often get confused, and it's easy to see why. The next time you make one, you'll know the difference!

Let's talk about how smoothies and milkshakes are alike:

  1. Thanks to the ice and ice cream they're made with, either one is a cold drink. (Great for a hot summer day!)
  2. A thick drink, both are usually served with a straw.
  3. With the exception of smoothie bowls, both are beverages that are typically served in glasses or cups.
  4. Smoothies and milkshakes can both be enjoyed as a snack.
  5. Either one can be made with dairy products. They can also be made dairy-free by using vegan or dairy-free ingredients like coconut milk or almond milk.

So ultimately, what is the main difference between milkshakes and smoothies?

So, smoothie vs milkshake? There are quite a few differences.

Ingredients: A smoothie is usually made with fruit and juice or milk. A thick milkshake is made by blending ice cream and milk, plus sometimes candy and cookies are mixed in for texture.

Time of day: While either could be considered a snack, smoothies are usually a breakfast food (often a whole meal) while milkshakes are typically enjoyed for dessert.

Calories: Because of the sugar content, milkshakes tend to be higher in calories in smoothies. That said, smoothie calorie counts can vary widely, so always check the nutritional info before deciding if it's the healthier option.

Toppings: The short version: Milkshakes have whipped cream, smoothies don't. Milkshakes sometimes get numerous toppings, like a piece of fruit (say a cherry or strawberry) chocolate syrup, sprinkles, nuts, cookies or candy toppings. Even crazy ones like donuts sometimes!

Color: Smoothies tend to be more colorful than milkshakes, depending on the choice of fruit.

two chocolate banana smoothies on a wood board

Smoothie Recipes

Here are some of our best smoothies:

Milkshake Recipes

Here are some of the most popular milkshakes:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.