Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the Difference?

Sugar? Milk? Cream? We've got the full scoop on what separates these tasty frozen treats.

Picture this: You’re at your favorite ice cream store, trying to decide if you should go for the strawberry sorbet or orange sherbet. But besides the fruit, what’s the difference between sorbet and sherbet? We turned to the experts at two of the top ice cream shops in the country to sort through the sorbet vs. sherbet confusion. If you’re looking for more food facts related to frozen desserts, find out who invented ice cream and why you’ll never be able to find a grape flavor.

What is sorbet?

Sorbet is a frozen mixture of water, sweeteners, fruit juices/pulps, and even herbs such as thyme or basil. It can be enjoyed as a dessert or a palate cleanser to help taste buds switch gears and prepare for the next course.

The best sorbets are hand-produced in small batches—just enough to last each day, shares Lorenzo Franchetti co-owner of Lollino in New York City. At their shop, in addition to tantalizing gelatos, you’ll also find an amazing selection of dairy-free, fat-free, and gluten-free sorbets, as well as treats made with Stevia in case you’re avoiding sugar.

Is sorbet the same as gelato?

While sorbet and gelato are both frozen (and delicious) treats, sorbet is made up solely of fruit purée, sweetener, and water, making it dairy-free. Gelato, on the other hand, is full of milk and cream, so not a vegan option at all. Gelato’s texture is also thicker and creamier than your typical sorbet.

Is Italian ice the same as sorbet?

Italian ice and sorbet are easily confused because of their similar fruity flavors and composition. The biggest difference between the two is that Italian ice is a bit grainer in texture due to the coarsely ground ice that is used to make it.  Sorbet is a bit smoother, mainly due to a slightly different ratio of flavorings to ice.

What is sherbet?

Sherbet, or sherbert, as it’s pronounced in many locales around the country, is almost the same as sorbet, but can contain up to 2 percent milk products, fats, and eggs—you may even find some vanilla flavors, but this is more rare. Any frozen mixtures containing more than 2 percent dairy should be called ice cream or gelato—and here’s the difference between those two frozen treats.

Sherbet comes in a variety of fruit flavors such as pineapple, orange, lime, raspberry, and mixtures of several types marketed as swirl or rainbow. Enjoyed mainly as a dessert, sherbet is also used as a fun way to dress up punch recipes, by floating the desired amount on top. A word to the wise: you might want to avoid swirl or rainbow in punch unless you want a brown or tan outcome. Sherbet is served in restaurants all over the country and is available in grocery stores everywhere, usually in its own section next to the sorbets and ice creams.

Are sherbet and ice cream the same thing?

Sherbet is kind of a hybrid between sorbet and ice cream. Unlike sorbet, sherbet includes dairy, but in much smaller amounts than ice cream. The dairy in ice cream makes it a bit creamier in texture versus sherbet, which is icier. According to Baskin Robbins, sherbet is also made with citric acid, which adds a bit of tartness to the sweet flavor.

Is it pronounced sherbet or sherbert?

It’s likely you’ve heard the word sherbet pronounced various ways, including the classic sherbert—you may even be one of those people who become mildly irritated when people pronounce the “r.” Well, we’re going to get to the bottom of this. The word “sherbet” stems from both Turkish and Persian words, and that spelling seemed to be the more established spelling in the 18th century. Sherbert rose in popularity during the 20th century and became another fully established variant of the word. The bottom line is, both variations are correct, but sherbet is the more popular choice.

Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the difference?

Is sherbet a sorbet?

No, sherbet is not considered a sorbet. While both have similar qualities, they are considered to be two different fruit-based frozen desserts. They have different origin stories, different textures, and different ingredients. Plus, sorbet is considered vegan while sherbet is not. Regardless of which you choose, there are a ton of refreshing sherbet and sorbet recipes you can make at home.

Is sorbet creamier than sherbet?

Sherbet is actually the creamier option due to small amount of dairy. Sorbet can feel a bit rougher in consistency since it is just flavoring and water. Sherbet can have a more ice-cream-like texture because of the small amount of cream.

Which is healthier: sherbet or sorbet?

Another consideration when it comes to sorbet vs. sherbet is which is easier on your waistline. The answer, according to Luconda Dager, the fourth generation of Dagers to help run Velvet Ice Cream in Utica, Ohio, is…neither. It’s amusing when customers think they’re saving calories by eating sorbet or sherbet, Dager says. But in actuality, a 4-ounce cup of vanilla ice cream (their best selling flavor) has fewer calories than the same-sized serving of sorbet. Sugar is the culprit here. However, if you’re looking for a dairy-free or vegan option, sorbet wins out.

Now that you know the difference between sorbet and sherbet, keep your food knowledge fresh and find out what the deal is with white chocolate.

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Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who focuses on digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pick-up lines, and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists, and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.