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What is Sherbet?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sherbet is a Turkish drink made from fruit juices, sugar, and water or ice. In some parts of the world, the word is used to refer to a frozen dessert similar to ice cream, and is sometimes spelled "sherbert." In much of the Arab world, however, the term means only one thing: a cooling drink frequently served in a culture which frowns upon alcohol consumption. Indeed, the root of the word is sharbat, the Arabic word for “drink.”

The base of sherbet is a distilled fruit juice, made by pressing fresh fruit to create juice and then cooking the juice down into a syrup. This makes fruit flavors readily accessible year round, and also affordable for members of the lower classes who could not otherwise purchase fresh fruit out of season. Common flavors used in the syrup include oranges, lemons, pomegranates, tamarinds, cherries, and sometimes flowers such as roses. The syrup is mixed with sugar or honey and water to make a basic sherbet, or blended with fresh ice.

Sherbet has been drunk in the Middle East for centuries. Originally, only members of the elite could have afforded to make it with ice or snow. Others drank it as a blended water drink. Advances in refrigeration technology have made ice-cooled sherbet available for more of the population in the modern era. In addition to being served around the home, the drink is also associated with hospitality and important events. At the signing of a wedding contract, for example, many families serve it to seal the deal. It is also served to guests at Ramadan who arrive after the daily fast has been broken.

Often, sherbet includes garnishes such as rose petals or mint, and is served in a variety of glasses. Many early visitors to the Middle East commented on the refreshing and light drink, some of them even suggesting that it must be a crucial component of paradise. In the often extremely dry heat of the Middle East, it is unsurprising that the drink was popular with visitors. These guests later brought the concept to Europe, where it was incorporated into beverages like Italian soda, the Western drink which probably most closely approximates sherbet.

In some Middle Eastern countries, the word also means “sweet,” because of the sugar mixed in with the fruit juices to make this drink. Well behaved children are sometimes said to be filled with sherbet, and asking for a drink sharbaat will result in a heavily sweetened drink in some countries.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon338128 — On Jun 11, 2013

I've been trying to find out this information for awhile. How many gallons of sherbet are produced in the US?

By Kristee — On Jul 17, 2012

Sherbet punch is pretty popular at some American parties, too. It is usually served in a large sherbet bowl and scooped into little glasses with a big dipper.

At just about every wedding shower and baby shower I have attended, someone has made sherbet punch. The most common flavor seems to be lime.

I think that whoever is making it just buys a gallon of lime sherbet in the ice cream section of the grocery store and uses it as a base for the punch. I have seen someone pouring grapefruit juice and lemon lime soda into the bowl on top of the sherbet to melt it down.

By orangey03 — On Jul 16, 2012

I am only familiar with sherbet ice cream. I had no idea that it was actually a drink! I imagine that a drink tasting similar to the icy treat would be delicious.

I never knew whether to call it “sherbet” or “sherbert.” Some people pronounce it differently, and sometimes, it is labeled differently.

My favorite type of sherbet is orange. To me, it tastes like a creamsicle. It is lower in both fat and calories than actual ice cream, so I can get away with eating more of it.

By anon6012 — On Dec 12, 2007

What is the difference between sorbet and sherbert?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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