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From my [limited] exposure, it seems like sorbet is merely sherbet with a higher price tag.

Is that a fair understanding?

If not, what is a better way of understanding the difference(s)?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Actually, they are not quite the same. Sorbet is ice sweetened with fruit, wine, or liquer. Italian ice, which is similar, does not contain ice but contains frozen fruit purees or similar. Sherbert contains a small amount of dairy, but the milkfat content is less than 3%, differentiating it from ice cream.

In the U. S. what is commonly called sorbet is most likely an Italian ice. The difference is the lower milk fat content.

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cool - and that's the difference I couldn't find elsewhere :) –  warren Nov 23 '10 at 14:52
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In my experience, the definition of sorbet vs. Italian ice is exactly reversed: sorbet is frozen fruit puree, and Italian ice is, like the name suggests, ice with flavoring syrup (different from a slushy in that the flavoring is added prior to freezing, instead of after). –  Marti Nov 23 '10 at 16:14
    
My experience is more in line with Marti's. For instance, Ciao Bella makes an incredible coconut sorbet which was clearly not ice with flavoring. –  Joe Nov 23 '10 at 18:35
    
Apparently, my usage of sorbet is an Americanism. (At least per Wikipedia.) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorbet en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_ice Note that in all definitions, a sorbet contains no dairy whatsoever. –  Marti Nov 23 '10 at 20:46
    
The words are used rather widely depending on where you are, so definitions are tricky without restricting to a locality. This applies to food words in general. –  Orbling Nov 24 '10 at 3:23
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When I was a child in Britain, sherbet was a fizzy powder. Sorbet is definitely water, sugar and flavourings: no milk.

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+1 Sherbet as the fizzy powder is a very British use of the word, especially if you tell people there should be a liquorice stick in it. ;-) –  Orbling Nov 24 '10 at 3:25
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