Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the Difference?

sorbet vs sherbet

The weather is warming up, which means it’s time to talk about frozen treats. Ice cream doesn’t need much of an explanation, but the sorbet vs. sherbet question has been on our minds ever since we first set foot in the frozen foods aisle. So, what’s the difference between these two chilled desserts? While sorbet and sherbet are both fruit-based treats with a lower fat content than your favorite pint of Rocky Road, they are not in fact the same thing. Here’s the full scoop (sorry, we couldn’t resist) on the differences between these two tasty treats.

What is Sorbet?

Sorbet is typically made from two main ingredients: fruit and sugar. Additional mix-ins like water or other flavors (think: herbs or alcohol) may sometimes be added as well but at its core, sorbet is just fruit puree and sweetener that is churned like ice cream. The important thing to know about sorbet is that there’s not a drop of dairy involved, which explains why it has a rough and flaky texture similar to shaved ice.

What is Sherbet?

If you think of frozen desserts as existing on a spectrum from lowest (sorbet) to highest (ice cream) dairy content, you will find sherbet somewhere in the middle. Sherbet is indeed made with milk, cream or even buttermilk—just not enough to qualify as ice cream, which by definition must contain at least 10 percent milkfat. In fact, the milkfat in sherbet is significantly lower: According to the FDA, sherbet must contain between one and two percent milkfat. In addition to this small amount of dairy and the requisite fruit puree, sherbet might also contain egg whites or gelatin, to help give the frozen dessert a creamier texture. And according to the International Dairy Foods Association, sherbet must also weigh a minimum of six pounds to the gallon. 

Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the Difference

They contain different ingredients

The biggest distinction between sorbet and sherbet is the amount of dairy they contain: Sorbet has none at all and sherbet has a little bit (but not enough to be called ice cream).

They have different textures

As a result of its dairy content, sherbet is creamier and slightly more decadent than sorbet (but again, not nearly as rich as ice cream). For this same reason, sherbet is considerably more enjoyable to dig into when you’ve first taken the chill off: Due to its small amount of dairy, sherbet is likely to be icy and hard straight from the freezer, but nice and silky after a few minutes at room temperature. 

They can be enjoyed in different ways

Since its conception, and to some extent still today, sorbet has not been enjoyed exclusively as a dessert—it is also considered to be an excellent palate cleanser and is often served between meal courses for this very purpose. Sherbet, on the other hand, is more of a dessert dish.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...