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Ask Dr. Gourmet



What's the difference between sorbet, sherbet, and ice cream?

Please explain the difference between Sorbet, Sherbet and Ice Cream. I am not Lactose Intolerant, but milk only sometimes bothers me. I did not realize Sherbert has milk in it. I know they have Light Ice Creams but what is better for you?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Orange Sorbet in Scooped-out Orange Rinds

The difference between sorbet and sherbet is that sherbets contain milk or another fat making it similar to ice cream. Generally thought of as being fruit based, sorbets can be made with any ingredient. For instance, I have had wonderful chocolate sorbet as well as one made with champagne.

Sorbets are technically ices and are also referred to as granitas or ices (as in Italian ice). These were probably the first iced dessert, having been invented by the Asians and then introduced to the Middle East and Italy. Because of the icy nature of the recipe sorbets are generally more grainy in texture, where sherbets are creamy because of the added fat.

The smoothness of a sorbet is also dependent on the secondary ingredients because of how they can change the structure of the frozen recipe. More or less sugar or alcohol or even the amount of water will make a big difference in the texture of the recipe.

Light ice creams are made in a number of ways. Until recently this was what we called "ice milk" when I was growing up and simply made with milk instead of cream (often with the addition of gelatin).

There are some processes now where the milk is super whipped and forms smaller fat globules that more closely resemble that in ice cream. There are also low sugar and sugar free versions marketed today.

Commercial sorbets have about 100 calories in a half cup. Most of the calories comes from the sugar. Light ice creams are similar but are made with milk and will generally contain some fat in addition to the sugar. Choosing one of these as an occasional treat is a good part of a healthy diet.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Dr. Gourmet