What's the Difference Between Sorbet, Sherbet, and Sherbert?

While sorbet, sherbet, and sherbert all taste fruity and sweet, they do differ in important ways — especially for those with lactose intolerance.

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There's nothing quite like digging a spoon into a cup of sorbet, sherbet, or sherbert for a cool, refreshing treat on a warm summer day or as a sweet palate cleanser after dinner. And generally, these three sweets are healthier than a slice of chocolate cake or apple pie, so they're good options when you want to settle your sugar craving without overdoing it on carbohydrates and calories.

Yet, while all three sound and look pretty similar, these three icy, fruity treats do have some differences.

And it's worth knowing what each one consists of, how they may taste and feel, and whether or not you can actually eat them safely due to dietary restrictions, such as dairy or lactose. (Yes, some do contain dairy, while others do not!)

It's often assumed that these three iced alternatives to dairy-laden ice cream and gelato are dairy free, both of which are creamy in texture. Yet just because sorbet, sherbet, and sherbert may not be as silky and rich with a cream base, but are rather icy and hydrating, it doesn't mean they consist of just fruit and water.

Here is what sorbet, sherbet, and sherbert all contain in terms of their ingredients, as well as how they may compare in flavor, texture, and nutrition, according to Seattle-based registered dietitian and nutritionist, Ginger Hultin, MS RDN, author of "Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep" and "How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook."

What Is Sorbet?

Limoncello Lemon Sorbet (With or Without Mint)
Kim

If you cannot tolerate dairy (you're lactose intolerant or have a sensitivity), or if you don't react well to eggs or are on a vegan diet where both dairy and eggs are off limits, then sorbet is your best bet for your fruity, chilled treat this summer.

"Sorbet is made with fruit but no dairy (eggs or milk/cream) so it's generally vegan-friendly and suits those with egg or dairy allergies, too," she says. The pureness of the fruit makes it icy and refreshing, and it won't be silky or rich in its texture as some other kinds of ice creams and sherberts may be. You can even jazz it up by adding in booze, like in this recipe for Limoncello Lemon Sorbet (pictured above.)

What Is Sherbet?

Watermelon Sherbet
Seattl2Sydney

Sherbet is made with fruit and a dairy, like milk or cream, so it's definitely not vegan or lactose intolerant friendly, which may come as a surprise to many! "Egg white or gelatin is sometimes added, too, and there are federal regulations that mandate sherbet/sherbert should have 1–2 percent butterfat," she says. So, it's actually closer to ice cream than it is to sorbet, simply due to the presence of milk, cream, and butterfat.

"While ice cream is based on dairy with other types of add-ins (including fruit sometimes), the difference is that sherbet is based on fruit purée and then made more creamy with the addition of some dairy," says Hultin.

This top-rated recipe for Watermelon Sherbet (shown above) is made with heavy cream so it feels super indulgent and rich in texture. So, the good news here is that if you're looking for an iced dessert or treat that has similar properties to ice cream but is lower in calories and saturated fat, sherbet is going to be preferable over ice cream as a more diet friendly alternative.

"Typically, it will have less saturated fat than ice cream," she says, because it is based in fruit purée and has milk, cream or butterfat, but in a much smaller dose than traditional ice cream.

three bowl of fruit sorbet or sherbet
Meredith

What Is Sherbert?

There's less of a difference between these two. "Sherbet and sherbert are the same per the Merriam-Webster [dictionary] and my understanding of the desserts, where sherbet is a standard American pronunciation," she says. So, for our sake, we might just simplify things and consider them to be the same: Not ice cream or sorbet, but some fruit based treat that does have a small dose of dairy within it to give it a slight creaminess that differentiates it from dairy-free sorbet.

"In British English, sherbert is a different thing, though, and it's a sweet powder that can get mixed into water to create an effervescent beverage," she says. So in the U.K., you can actually order sherbert and will likely get a drink. But in the U.S., you'll probably get sherbet.

How Do They Compare?

To be honest, all three are going to be pretty high in sugars, especially added sugars. So, while they may be a better option than a thick slice of cake or a fried dessert, you should stick to one serving size and look for lower sugar varieties when possible.

"While both sherbet and sorbet are naturally high in added sugars, the biggest difference is the addition of dairy or not," she says. "If you follow a vegan diet or have a food allergy, sorbet will be a better choice," she adds.

Plus, in terms of nutrition, sorbet will also be the healthiest option becasue it doesn't contain the milk, cream, or butterfat, which increases saturated fat content. "Sorbet is also much lower in saturated fat unless it's coconut milk based, in which case the fat content may be similar or even higher than sherbet," she says. You can look at labels or inquire if dining out to see whether or not there is coconut milk added to it.

On the flipside nutritionally, sherbet and sherbert will have more nutrients (even if more saturated fat) than sorbet. "Sherbet generally has some addition of dairy, though less than ice cream, and therefore, it will have more protein and minerals like calcium than sorbet," she says.

So, it's a trade-off for what you're looking for most in your diet and how you integrate your sorbet, sherbet, or sherbert into your overall daily intake of calories and micro- and macro-nutrients.

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