Sorbet vs. Sherbet: What’s the Difference

Sorbet and sherbet are both frozen treats that have gained immense popularity in the culinary world. As light, refreshing desserts, they offer a tantalizing contrast to their heavier counterparts like ice cream and gelato. Yet their differences leave some consumers puzzled, inviting a closer look at what sets them apart.

Sorbet is a dairy-free frozen delight made primarily from fruit juice, water, and sugar, which lends itself to a lighter, fruitier taste. Ideal for vegans and those avoiding dairy, it has a variety of flavors that range from classic citrus options to more exotic choices like passion fruit and pomegranate.

Sherbet, on the other hand, has a slightly creamier texture due to its small content of milk, cream or buttermilk. This dairy addition creates a smoother, richer consistency compared to sorbet, offering a perfect balance between ice cream and its fruit-based cousin. Available in a similar array of flavors, sherbet also bridges the gap in satisfying the diverse cravings of dessert enthusiasts.

Sorbet vs Sherbet: Definitions

What is Sorbet

Sorbet is a popular frozen dessert, often enjoyed as a palate cleanser or a light, refreshing treat. It is made primarily from fruit puree or fruit juice, sugar, and water. Sometimes, additional flavorings or ingredients can be added to enhance the taste. However, it generally does not contain any dairy or egg products, making it a suitable choice for vegans and those with lactose intolerance. The texture of sorbet is usually smooth and icy, with a semi-solid consistency.

There are different methods of making sorbet, but the most common one involves churning the mixture in an ice cream machine, which adds air to create a softer texture. A quick table highlighting the main features of sorbet:

BaseFruit puree or juice, sugar, and water
Dairy ContentNone
TextureSmooth and icy
Vegan FriendlyYes

What is Sherbet

Sherbet, on the other hand, is also a frozen dessert, but it has some key differences when compared to sorbet. While still fruit-based, sherbet usually contains a small amount of dairy, such as milk or cream, which gives it a creamier texture than sorbet. In addition, it might contain egg whites or gelatin to improve consistency.

Sherbet typically has a lower fat content than ice cream and tends to have a lighter, more refreshing flavor profile. It can be made using various techniques, with the most popular method being the continuous freezing process, which ensures an even distribution of air, resulting in a smoother product. A quick table highlighting the main features of sherbet:

BaseFruit puree or juice, sugar, water, and a small amount of dairy
Dairy ContentLow
TextureCreamier than sorbet but lighter than ice cream
Vegan FriendlyNo

In summary, both sorbet and sherbet are frozen treats enjoyed by many. Sorbet is dairy-free and suitable for vegans, while sherbet contains a small amount of dairy and has a creamier texture. Both desserts offer a refreshing and fruity alternative to traditional ice cream.

Key Differences

Dairy Content

Sorbet and sherbet differ mainly in their dairy content. Sorbet is a dairy-free frozen dessert made primarily of fruit, sugar, and water, while sherbet contains a small amount of dairy, usually in the form of milk or cream. The dairy content in sherbet typically ranges from 1% to 2%, but it can be higher in some cases.

Frozen TreatDairy Content
Sherbet1% to 2%


The texture of these two frozen treats also varies significantly:

  • Sorbet: The absence of dairy in sorbet results in a smooth, icy consistency. It tends to be more dense and can be more intensely flavored due to the high fruit content.
  • Sherbet: The inclusion of dairy in sherbet creates a creamier texture, closer to ice cream but lighter. It often has a slightly softer consistency than sorbet.


Sorbet and sherbet are both available in a wide array of flavors. Their flavor profiles can be quite similar, with typical ingredients including:

  • Fruit: citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruits, etc.
  • Sugar: to sweeten and help create the desired texture
  • Water: the liquid base for sorbet
  • Milk or cream: the dairy component of sherbet

Traditional sorbet flavors focus on fruit, such as lemon, mango, and raspberry. Sherbet flavors often incorporate fruit as well but can include more varied options, like orange or even rainbow sherbet, which combines multiple fruit flavors. Some sherbets also incorporate other flavorings, like vanilla or chocolate.

Though sorbet and sherbet both primarily focus on fruit flavors, sherbets have the added creativity of dairy, opening up flavor possibilities not available in dairy-free sorbets.

Health Aspects and Dietary Considerations


Sorbet and sherbet are both popular frozen desserts that come with their own caloric profiles. Sorbet typically has fewer calories per serving compared to sherbet. The reason is that sorbet does not contain dairy, and is mainly composed of fruit puree, water, and sugar. A typical serving size (1/2 cup) of sorbet may have around 100-150 calories.

Sherbet, which lies between sorbet and ice cream, contains a small amount of dairy, usually in the form of milk or cream. This addition results in a slightly higher calorie count for sherbet, with a same-sized serving (1/2 cup) containing approximately 130-180 calories.

Vegan Options

For those who follow a vegan diet or prefer non-dairy dessert options, sorbet is the natural choice. Since it does not contain dairy, sorbet is suitable for people with lactose intolerance as well. However, it is essential to check the ingredient list while making a purchase, as some fruit sorbets might contain honey or other animal-derived sweeteners.

On the other hand, sherbet contains dairy, which makes it unsuitable for vegans or those avoiding dairy products.

Dairy-Free Choices

While both sorbets and sherbets offer fruity flavors, there are some differences in their dairy content:

  • Sorbet: Sorbet is a dairy-free frozen dessert, which makes it suitable for those with lactose intolerance or seeking dairy-free options. Additionally, sorbet is a lighter, more refreshing option compared to sherbet and ice cream.
  • Sherbet: Containing a small amount of dairy, sherbet does not qualify as a dairy-free option. Those with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivities should opt for sorbet instead.

In summary, when considering health aspects and dietary preferences, sorbet has fewer calories and is both vegan and dairy-free, making it a more suitable option for those seeking lighter desserts and accommodating various dietary restrictions. Sherbet, although containing more calories and dairy, also offers a delightful fruity taste but is not suitable for vegans or those with lactose intolerance.

Popular Flavors and Additions

Fruit-Based Flavors

Sorbet and sherbet both offer a wide range of refreshing fruit-based flavors. Some popular and common flavors include:

  • Lime
  • Raspberry
  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Pineapple

These fruity options provide intense, natural taste experiences, with the sweetness of sugar complementing the natural sour or tangy fruit flavors.

Herbs and Spices

For a more unique and adventurous twist, herbs and spices can be incorporated into sorbet and sherbet recipes, creating distinct and memorable taste profiles. Some popular herb and spice additions are:

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Mint

These herbs can be combined with fruit flavors or used on their own, adding an aromatic and sophisticated element to the frozen dessert.

Chocolate and Coffee

Although more commonly associated with ice cream, chocolate and coffee flavors can also be found in sorbet and, more frequently, in sherbet. Chocolate and coffee flavored sherbets sometimes incorporate vanilla ice cream as a base to create a creamier texture. The rich and bold flavors of chocolate and coffee offer a more indulgent alternative to the traditional fruit-based options, appealing to a wider range of palates.

Regulations and Guidelines

When it comes to the classification of sorbet and sherbet, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides guidelines that manufacturers must follow. While both products are frozen desserts, they have distinct differences in terms of ingredients and production processes.

According to the FDA guidelines, sorbet is a water-based frozen dessert primarily containing fruit juice or fruit puree, sugar, and water. It is typically dairy-free and has a smoother texture than similar frozen treats like ice or Italian ice.

On the other hand, sherbet is a frozen dessert that contains a small amount of dairy, usually in the form of milk or cream. Its dairy content falls between 1% and 2%, differentiating it from ice cream, which has a higher dairy content. Sherbet also contains fruit juice or fruit puree, sugar, and water.

The FDA monitors and enforces these guidelines to ensure that products are labeled and marketed correctly. This helps consumers make informed choices when buying frozen desserts. The key differences between sorbet and sherbet as identified by the FDA are:

  • Dairy Content: Sorbet is dairy-free, while sherbet contains between 1% and 2% dairy.
  • Texture: Sorbet has a smoother, more velvety texture, while sherbet is lighter and more ice-like.

For manufacturers, compliance with FDA guidelines is essential to avoid penalties, fines, or recalls. By accurately labeling and marketing their products as sorbet or sherbet, they can provide clear information for consumers and maintain trust in their brand.

Making Sorbet and Sherbet at Home

Basic Recipes

Sorbet is typically made from fruit puree, juice, or fresh fruit, while sherbet includes some dairy or milkfat to add a slightly creamier texture. Here are some basic recipes:


  • 2 cups fruit puree or juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice


  • 1 cup fruit puree or juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup milk or dairy substitute

Combine the respective ingredients and follow your ice cream maker’s instructions for churning and freezing.

Ingredient Selection

The key to making delicious sorbet and sherbet at home is selecting high-quality ingredients. For sorbet, choose ripe, in-season fruit for the best flavor. For sherbet, in addition to selecting quality fruit, consider using full-fat milk or cream for a smoother texture. Avoid using gelatin, eggs, or additional milkfat, as they change the nature of the final product.

Equipment and Techniques

Making sorbet and sherbet at home requires a few essential pieces of equipment:

  • Ice cream maker: This appliance churns and freezes the mixture, creating a smooth and airy texture.
  • Blender or food processor: Necessary for creating fruit puree from fresh fruit.
  • Fine mesh strainer: Useful for straining fruit purée to remove seeds and any unwanted pulp.

When making sorbet and sherbet, follow these techniques to ensure a great result:

  1. Chill the fruit puree or juice before combining with the other ingredients to make freezing more efficient.
  2. Strain the fruit purée through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds and unwanted pulp.
  3. Allow sufficient time for the mixture to churn and freeze before serving – this varies depending on the specific recipe and ice cream maker used.

Related Frozen Treats

Ice Cream

Ice cream is a popular frozen dessert made from dairy products, primarily milk or cream, combined with sugar and flavorings. It is churned to incorporate air, resulting in a rich and creamy texture. There are several types of ice cream, including:

  • Regular ice cream: contains 10-18% milkfat
  • Premium ice cream: higher milkfat content (16-20%), denser and creamier
  • Light or reduced-fat ice cream: lower milkfat content (3-7%)


Gelato, derived from the Italian word for “frozen,” is another popular frozen dessert. Similar to ice cream, it is made from milk, sugar, and flavorings, but with some differences:

  • Lower milkfat content (4-8%)
  • Churned at a slower speed, resulting in less air and a denser consistency
  • Often served at a warmer temperature which enhances flavor and texture
CategoryMilkfatChurning SpeedTemperatureResult
Ice Cream10-18%FasterColdLight and fluffy
Gelato4-8%SlowerSlightly warmDense and creamy


Granita is a semi-frozen dessert originating from Sicily, Italy. It is made by freezing a mixture of water, sugar, and flavored liquid, then periodically scraping the surface to create a coarse, crystalline consistency. Unlike ice cream and gelato, granita does not require churning and is typically dairy-free. Common granita flavors include:

  • Lemon
  • Coffee
  • Almond
  • Fruit-based flavors like strawberry or watermelon

Italian Ice

Italian ice, also known as water ice, is a frozen dessert similar to granita. It is made by freezing a mixture of water, sugar, and flavorings, then continuously mixing or churning to create a smoother texture. Italian ice is dairy-free and can be found in various flavors:

  • Fruit-based flavors (lemon, cherry, blue raspberry)
  • Chocolate and vanilla
  • Specialty flavors (root beer, bubble gum, pina colada)
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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