Sherbet vs. Sorbet

I had always wondered what the difference was between sherbet (also spelled sherbert) and sorbet (i.e. Italian sorbetto). Both are derived from the Turkish and Persian words şerbet and sharbat respectively. In turn, they are ultimately derived from the Arabic word for ‘drink’, sharba.

The difference appears to be an American distinction between an ice that has a small amount of dairy (sherbet) and one that has none (sorbet). Although, just to throw the spanner into the works, British English uses the word sherbet to describe a flavoured powder used to make sweet effervescent fruity drinks…. My sherbet, however, follows the US definition and since chocolate (non-dairy) sorbet has been our summer favourite, I elected to try a (dairy-light) sherbet variation.

Chocolate Sherbet
This is a variation on Nick Palumbo’s chocolate sorbet in Gelato Messina. Palumbo says his sorbet delivers a cocoa punch, but leaves a clean refreshing palate. This sherbet does as well, but with a very slight creaminess. It does not have the percentage of milk fat to call it a gelato that leaves you with a smooth velvety taste. If lactose-free milk is used, it can be consumed by those who avoid lactose for dietary reasons.

  • 350g water
  • 300g milk (I used lactose-free)
  • 200g sugar
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 60g dextrose
  • 25g maltodextrin
  • 5g xantham gum (stabiliser)
  • 1 to 2 pinches of salt (see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Measure the sugars, cocoa, salt and stabiliser in a bowl. Mix and set aside. In a separate bowl measure out the water and milk. Heat the mixed liquid in the microwave until warm. Slowly whisk the sugar and cocoa mixture into the warm liquid until dissolved and the stabiliser has produced a gel. Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours until the mixture is very cold.

When ready to put the mixture in your ice cream machine, blend it again using a hand blender. Process it in your machine according to its instructions. Place in a container and freeze for at least 4 hours or over night. To scoop, first leave it in the refrigerator for half an hour until it is slightly softened. Serve and enjoy.

* * *

Salt, like sugar, is a flavour enhancer, but tends to lower the freezing point of liquids. A pinch is generally defined as somewhere between 1/8th and 1/16th of a teaspoon – about 0.25g. That’s a very small amount of salt and, as a consequence, I felt it was unlikely to affect the antifreeze properties. What resulted from that pinch was an intense chocolate flavour. Deviating from Nick Palumbo’s recipe, I now use a pinch of salt in both my chocolate sorbet and chocolate sherbet (as well as vanilla extract) to heighten the chocolate flavour.

The following terminology is often used to define very small amounts in cooking: 2 smidgens = 1 pinch, and 2 pinches = 1 dash.



  1. The temperature heat 30C here yesterday and it’s still winter! My thought turned to breaking out the ice cream churn and making that delicious choc sorbet. Gelato Messina opened in Brisbane a few months ago, just a short bus ride away, so I’ve been working my way through the flavour offerings. Salted coconut and mango is my favourite so far. There’s something magical about the way salt brings out flavour. My granny always stirred a pinch of salt into her morning coffee

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