The Real Difference Between Sorbet And Sherbet

Wait, there's a difference?

It's easy to understand the confusion: Both are light, fruity, frozen desserts that aren't as heavy as traditional ice creams. However, sorbet and sherbet aren't just variant spellings of the same word. They actually refer to distinct — though similar — dishes.  

Like ice cream and gelato, the difference comes down to the amount of dairy. As The Kitchn explains, sorbet is fruit and sugar blended and churned together, making it a great dairy-free alternative to ice cream. It's easy to make sorbet on your own with a blender and frozen fruit.

Sherbet contains cream and/or milk, which helps produce a creamier texture. It's still not as creamy as ice cream, though: Legally, a frozen dessert can only be sold as sherbet if it contains less than 2% fat. Serious Eats explains that while sherbert contains more ingredients than sorbet, it's a simple and rewarding treat to make at home.

The desserts have similar origins

No one knows exactly where sorbet and sherbet originated. Food and Wine states that, according to legend, sorbet was invented when Emperor Nero mixed honey and wine with hand-carried snow from mountaintops. According to PBS, there are biblical accounts of King Soloman eating frozen fruit confections, and emperors from the Tang Dynasty may have been the first to eat dairy-based deserts, similar to ice cream. However, it was Antonio Latini who is credited with recording a recipe that introduced sorbetto to Europe.

In addition to the confusing sherbet-sorbet mixup, many people mispronounce the word sherbert. As Merriam-Webster explains, the word is spelled "sherbet" but pronounced "SHER-but." The word originates from the Arabic word "sharba," meaning, "drink." However, "sherbert" has become the accepted spelling. Online Etymology Dictionary states that "sorbet" has similar origins, but the word was filtered through Italian and French before arriving in English.