Sorbet: an alternative to ice cream


I never fell for sorbets. OK, they are refreshing, thirst-quenching, ideal to conclude a summer meal or for a light snack, ma it never conquered my hearth. I still remember when it was served during grand-occasions dinner to clean up the taste buds from the sea-flavor of fish, before switching to the more robust taste of meat. I wonder if this habit is still on or not, as other gastronomic trend (meat with arugula and parmesan, rum and pear, risotto with strawberries and so on…).

I always found sorbet unsatisfying. Maybe because of the absence of dairies or the poor creaminess, I always refrain to order one. Anyway, I must admit I have reconsidered sorbet lately as a good alternative dessert for lactose-intolerant or vegan friends. Sorbets are made of fruit pulp or juice, water and sugar, and are an excellent treat for those who must eliminate dairy products from their diet. Considering the negligible content of fats, sorbets could be an option also for those who want to give themselves a treat without feeling guilty. But to me, no sorbet can beat a well-made hazelnut or pistachio gelato.  

A bit of science

From the chemical/technological point of view, sorbet lacks all those emulsifying compounds that help with incorporating air (proteins, first of all, present in minimal amount in fruits). The absence of fats determines the poor creaminess of the sorbet and its tendency to harden, once stocked in the freezer. Frankly, a sorbet should be prepared and eaten right away.

Adding food additives might help minimizing those problems, in particular to prevent the formation of large ice crystals and maintain the sorbet relatively soft. It is not rare finding, among the ingredients of a lemon sorbet, whipped egg white, gelatin or carob powder. Whipped egg white helps incorporating air, thanks to the presence of emulsifying proteins. That makes the sorbet softer. Gelatin, as well as carob powder, prevents the formation of large ice crystals and the hardening of the mass.

If those tricks give sorbets with more delicate textures, they might not be suitable for your vegan friends. Gelatin and albumen are of animal origin, therefore excluded by the vegan diet. Think carefully, before preparing a dessert that your friend will have to pass on (don’t do like me that I served a panna cotta to a vegetarian friend, recalling at the last minute that it contained gelatin :P).

Which fruit?

Any fruit. Sorbets can be prepared with your favorite fruits, starting from pulp or juice. Among the great classic we find the citrus sorbets, as lemon, orange and mandarin. But you can expand your imagination and try berries, pineapple, melon and watermelon.

Maverick sorbets

I remember just three sorbets worth noting. The only special sorbets that blew my mind in the last 15 years.

Sgroppino_a lemon sorbet added with vodka. More a drink than a dessert. I tried it for the first time in Versilia, but it is diffused in all the Italian peninsula. An excellent alternative to an after meal digestive.

Lemon and basil sorbet_tried in a restaurant in Lucca (Tuscany). An unusual, but appropriate pairing.

Melon and chili pepper sorbet_tasted in the Tuscan restaurant mentioned above. The freshness of melon is immediately followed by the heat of the chili pepper. Genius and surprising.

As you might guess, Thursday, I am going to share a recipe for a sorbet. The question is: shall I stay on classic flavors or dare some bold pairing?