Water ices 101

Easy recipes for deliciously refreshing desserts and boozy slushies.

06 Nov 2009

Water ices, granitas and grown-up boozy slushies are just the ticket in the heat and so easy to make yourself. Scroll down and click on the links to tips for making them as well as 5 fatasticly easy recipes.

History of water ices

There's a debate among food historians about who invented water ices. Some say it was first made in China, from where the intrepid explorer Marco Polo brought it to Italy. Others say that the Chinese themselves introduced water ices to the Persians and Arabs who then introduced them to the Italians. According to Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopaedia of Food in World Mythology by Tamra Andrews, the earliest icehouses indeed existed in Mesopotamia, beside the Euphrates River, about 4 000 years ago and the rich used the ice in these puts to cool their wines.

Whatever the case, water ices have been enjoyed for thousands of years throughout the world. For example, Alexander the Great dug pits and filled them with snow so that his army could have cool wine in the summer. Roman emperor Nero Claudius Caesar had ice brought from the mountains to cool and freeze the fruit drinks he was so fond of, and the kings of Egypt had snow shipped to them from Lebanon. Easterners, especially in the Turkish Empire, frequently consumed iced fruit drinks, and the people of Greece sold snow in the markets of Athens from as early as the fifth century BC. Historically, sorbets were the first iced desserts and ice cream did not appear until the 18th century.

Proof that the Arabs were involved in early water ice creation comes from the fact that the word sherbet derives from Arabic shariba, "to drink". Shariba gave rise to numerous derivatives, in Arabic and other languages, including English.

One variant, Arabic sharab (drink), gave Turkish serbet (and Persian and Hindi sharbat) and our sherbet. Italian sorbetto, French sorbet and Spanish sorbete, belong to the sherbet group. Another Italian term, granita, refers to a water ice with a more granular texture and often flavoured with coffee, than the standard kind or indeed sorbet. Sorbet is first described in Latini's Treatise on Various Kinds of Sorbets, or Water Ices written between 1692 and 1694, and which contains the first written recipes on how to mix sugar, salt, snow, and lemon juice, strawberrries, sour cherries, and other fruit, as well as chocolate, cinnamon water, and different flavourings.

The Ottoman sherbet remains essentially a syrupy, fruit, flower or herb-flavoured chilled drink still enjoyed throughout the Middle East, including Turkey and parts of North Africa. The European sorbet is traditionally served as a dessert or as a refreshment between courses; at large formal dinners in France, and sorbets with an alcoholic base are served between the main courses, taking the place of the liqueur formerly served in the middle of the meal.

Click here for more on sorbets, sherbets and granitas

Click here for Tips and tricks to making water ices

5 things to do with water ices

1. Berry granita

2. Coffee granita

3. Orange sherbet sundae

4. Strawberry slush for adults

5. Tomato cocktail with vodka slushies


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