Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the Difference?

Sugar? Milk? Cream? What's the difference? Read on to get the skinny—or fat—about 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 vs. sherbet? We turned to the experts at two of the top ice cream shops in the country.

Sorbet vs. sherbet

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 as a palate cleanser to help taste buds switch gears and prepare for the next course.

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. Any frozen mixtures containing more than 2 percent should be called ice cream or gelato—and here’s the difference between those two frozen treats.

Early versions of the two date back to Roman Emperors whose slaves somehow brought snow down from mountains to mix with honey and wine to create an ancient precursor of today’s sorbets and snow cones. Back then, frozen foods in warm climates were the height of decadence. Ice cream isn’t the only food with ancient origins—here’s more behind the origin of your favorite foods.

Sherbet would come along later when additional ingredients would be added in to make the mixtures richer in texture and taste.

Sorbet vs. sherbet explained by the experts

The best sorbets (and gelatos) should be hand-produced in small batches—just enough to last each day, shares Lorenzo Franchetti co-owner of Lollino in New York City. (The shop is just steps away from the W. 20th Street entrance to The High Line, one of the most spectacular parks you’ll ever encounter and the snazzy High Line Hotel in Chelsea.) At their shop, in addition to tantalizing gelatos, you’ll also find an amazing selection of dairy-free, fat-free, gluten-free sorbets, and even treats made with Stevia in case you’re avoiding sugar. Our favorite is the hazelnut sorbet—it doesn’t contain a speck of dairy, but you’d swear its base is rich cream. Unique sorbet flavors at Lollino include ginger and lime, taste of Petra (rose and pomegranate), rosemary and lemon, sour cherry, guava, virgin mojito, golden lime, and tamarind. Hungry for more? These are some of the craziest ice cream flavors you can buy right now.

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 a fun way to dress up your favorite punch recipes by floating the desired amount ontop. A word to the wise: you might not want to use 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.

Sorbet vs. sherbet: Calorie counts

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 a 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.

But let’s face it, gleeful customers entering an ice cream shop usually aren’t thinking about counting calories at that very moment, Luconda says. And she should know—Velvet Ice Cream was founded by her great-grandfather Joseph, who arrived in this country in 1903 virtually penniless. Eleven years later he began making and selling homemade ice cream. Today, the company has 135 employees, and produces frozen treats to sell in their historic shop, and to distribute to dip shops, grocery stores and convenience stores all over Ohio and surrounding states—offering several types of sorbet and sherbet (in Ohio it’s often pronounced sherbert) using local seasonal ingredients when possible. (Sherbet is one of the 17 common food words you’re probably pronouncing wrong.) In addition to a large variety of ice creams the company produces and sells more than 1.5 million quarts of sherbet each year featuring such flavors like lime, raspberry, Florida orange, pineapple, and rainbow. Next, read on to discover our favorite ice cream store in every state.

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