What is Sorbet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sorbet is a frozen fruit dessert typically made with a sweetener and a fruit puree. Unlike gelato, it is made vegan, meaning that it contains no animal products, and it tends to be slightly softer than gelato. It is also often lower in fat than many other frozen fruit desserts, as it contains no milk or cream to raise the fat content. It is also sometimes seen on menus as sorbetto, to distinguish it from gelato. Sorbet is made in an assortment of sweet and savory flavors for a wide variety of culinary situations, and is readily available in most grocery stores.

Basil leaves could be used to flavor a savory sorbet.
Basil leaves could be used to flavor a savory sorbet.

The dessert is derived from sherbet, a cooled drink served widely in the Middle East. When sherbet was brought to Europe, many cooks presumably began experimenting with other formulations including ices, granita, and sorbet. Sorbet is dense and even in texture, unlike a slushy ice or a granular granita. It is made like ice cream and gelato, by slowly freezing down the ingredients while churning them constantly to create an even, consistent texture.

Beets are sometimes used in savory sorbet.
Beets are sometimes used in savory sorbet.

Sweet sorbet is often served as a dessert, or as a standalone refresher in summer. Any type of fruit can be turned into a puree for this dessert, and it is sweetened with honey or sugar, depending on the region. Sorbet is also made with flavors like chocolate, coffee, and nuts. Some cooks add additional ingredients for texture, making combinations such as lemon and lavender or coffee with chocolate chunks.

Sorbet is readily available in most grocery stores.
Sorbet is readily available in most grocery stores.

Savory sorbet appears as a palate cleanser, or a dessert course after some meals. In some cases, a crisply flavored sorbet such as lemon will be served to cleanse the palate of guests. Depending on the cook and the meal, savory sorbets may be made with relatively neutral flavoring, while others complement the meal in some way. Rosemary, tomato, beets, and basil are all used to make savory versions.

Chocolate chunks may be added to sorbet.
Chocolate chunks may be added to sorbet.

Because sorbet is not typically thinned with water, it tends to be very dense and intensely flavored. For this reason, it is served in small scoops, so that it does not overwhelm the diner. If it is too hard, a small amount of alcohol may be added to the mixture to soften it. In some cases, the alcohol is intended to deliberately form part of the flavor, as is the case with grapefruit and campari sorbet, for example.

Sweet sorbet is often served as a standalone refresher in the summer.
Sweet sorbet is often served as a standalone refresher in the summer.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon95839

Most French sorbet recipes include egg white and are made mostly of sweetened water flavored with fruit. Your statements that there is no animal content and also that sorbet is not typically thinned with water, are incorrect.

anon82480

I am having a dinner party and was wondering when do you serve a sorbet between entree and main or after the main.

desertdunes

I didn't know sherbet was actually a drink, I just thought that sorbet was the "fancy" version of the same ice cream like dessert.

Don't know how a savory sorbet would go down, beet flavor sounds about as tasty as Turkey Flavored ice cream, which is NOT good.

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