Sorbet is a frozen fruit dessert typically made with a sweetener and a fruit puree. Unlike gelato, it is made vegan, meaning that it contains no animal products, and it tends to be slightly softer than gelato. It is also often lower in fat than many other frozen fruit desserts, as it contains no milk or cream to raise the fat content. It is also sometimes seen on menus as sorbetto, to distinguish it from gelato. Sorbet is made in an assortment of sweet and savory flavors for a wide variety of culinary situations, and is readily available in most grocery stores.
The dessert is derived from sherbet, a cooled drink served widely in the Middle East. When sherbet was brought to Europe, many cooks presumably began experimenting with other formulations including ices, granita, and sorbet. Sorbet is dense and even in texture, unlike a slushy ice or a granular granita. It is made like ice cream and gelato, by slowly freezing down the ingredients while churning them constantly to create an even, consistent texture.
Sweet sorbet is often served as a dessert, or as a standalone refresher in summer. Any type of fruit can be turned into a puree for this dessert, and it is sweetened with honey or sugar, depending on the region. Sorbet is also made with flavors like chocolate, coffee, and nuts. Some cooks add additional ingredients for texture, making combinations such as lemon and lavender or coffee with chocolate chunks.
Savory sorbet appears as a palate cleanser, or a dessert course after some meals. In some cases, a crisply flavored sorbet such as lemon will be served to cleanse the palate of guests. Depending on the cook and the meal, savory sorbets may be made with relatively neutral flavoring, while others complement the meal in some way. Rosemary, tomato, beets, and basil are all used to make savory versions.
Because sorbet is not typically thinned with water, it tends to be very dense and intensely flavored. For this reason, it is served in small scoops, so that it does not overwhelm the diner. If it is too hard, a small amount of alcohol may be added to the mixture to soften it. In some cases, the alcohol is intended to deliberately form part of the flavor, as is the case with grapefruit and campari sorbet, for example.