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There's a difference.

Max Bonem
May 17, 2017

While ice cream or gelato might be your go-to dessert for spring and summer, you should not forget their fruitier counterparts, sorbet and sherbet. These two fruit-based frozen desserts are perfect for a slightly lighter alternative to ice cream and gelato and both really embrace the bounty of fresh fruit available this time of year. However, it can sometimes be tough to differentiate between the two. Here are the differences between sorbet and sherbet.

They have different origin stories.

Both sorbet and sherbet have rather peculiar origin stories. Sorbet, for instance, was reportedly invented by the Roman emperor Nero, who demanded buckets of snow be passed by hand from the tops of mountains to his banquet hall where the snow was then mixed with honey and wine.

Sherbet, on the other hand, has its roots in the Ottoman Empire, where Alexander the Great served it as a sweet drink made from fruit and flower petals. However, it was a later Ottoman emperor that really took sherbet to the next level. The story goes that when Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire during the 1500s, was unhappy with one of his advisors, he had one of his gardener-executioners, known as the Bostanbasi, deliver him a glass of one of two colors of sherbet. White sherbet meant the advisor would live, but if red sherbet was sent, it meant the advisor was condemned.

They are made with different ingredients.

Sorbet is made from two main ingredients, fruit and sugar. Occasionally water or other natural flavors might be added as well, but essentially sorbet is just fruit and sugar that is then churned like ice cream. Sorbet's close relative granita–the precursor to Italian ice–uses the same ingredients as sorbet, but it is not churned and is instead flaked off by hand as it freezes to create a more coarse and icy texture.

Sherbet is also made from fruit and sugar, but in addition to these two ingredients, sherbet also includes cream. According to the FDA, sherbet must contain between one and two percent milkfat. Conversely, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milkfat. Everything containing between two and 10 percent is simply deemed a frozen dairy dessert.

They have different textures.

Due to sorbet’s lack of dairy, the consistency can often feel drier and rougher, which is why sorbet needs to sit at room temperature longer before eating. Sherbet, on the other hand, has an almost ice cream-like texture due to its cream content.

They serve different purposes.

While sorbet is now consumed primarily as a dessert all on its own, for a long time sorbet was used primarily as a palate cleanser at high-end restaurants. Due to its pleasant texture and lack of fat, it was seen as the perfect way to reset between indulgent courses. Sherbet, however, evolved from an Emperor’s method for sending notice about his advisors’ fates to the favorite dessert of every American child. Seriously, Team Sherbet beat Starbucks to the rainbow craze by almost 60 years when it was invented in Philadelphia during the 1950s.

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