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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.