Sorbets, sherbets and granitas 101
Water ices may be served as a stand-alone refreshment, as a dessert, or
as a means of refreshing the palate about halfway through a meal of
many courses. There are subtle differences between the three most
common water ices, and over the years the recipes have become so
entwined that it is hard to tell which one is which. In fact, one
person’s sorbet could very well be another’s sherbet, or granita.
The main differences between water ices (which contain basically the
same ingredients) lies in the freezing method, the amount of sugar you
use in proportion to the liquid in the recipe, and the texture in the
finished product. Sorbet is prepared with a relatively high proportion
of sugar to liquid, and frozen in a conventional, beater-type ice cream
maker, and has a creamy, smooth consistency. Granita has less sugar to
liquid, is frozen in a large freezer-safe pan in the freezer section of
your refrigerator and is stirred with a rubber spatula or raked with
the tines of a fork about every 30 minutes to yield large, coarse ice
Sorbet is a type of water ice
that is softer and more granular than ice cream as it does not contain
any fat or egg yolk. The basic ingredient of a sorbet is fruit juice or
puree, wine, spirit or liqueur, or an infusion (tea or mint). A sugar
syrup, sometimes with additional glucose or one or two invert sugars is
added. The mixture should not be beaten during freezing.
Sherbet in the Middle East is
made from fruit juices or extracts of flowers or herbs, combined with
sugar and water (and sometimes vinegar) to form a syrup that is thinned
at any later time with water, ice or even snow. Syrups are
traditionally made of fruit, including pear, quince, strawberry, apple,
rose water, cherry, pomegranate and orange, and in the Middle East herb
sherbet is made from the leaves or roots of such plants as palmyra palm
and carob. There is also a honey sherbet and one made of tamarind.
Outside the Muslim world alcohol such as rum or brandy, could be added.
Some, especially in the Western world, distinguish between sorbet and
sherbet by noting that sherbet (can) contain milk. A milk sherbet would
not be as light or full of fruit as a granita or sorbet.
Granitas, as are sorbets, are
characteristically light and refreshing, but intensely flavoured, and
sometimes tart and sweet at the same time. Granita is an icy frozen
mixture, traditionally made with coffee. To make, coffee or other
ingredients are poured into a large shallow pan then frozen. To serve
you use the tines of a fork to scrape the mixture up and place in
goblets which creates kind of a cross between a slushy and a sorbet.
Granita is served in a myriad of flavours from the more traditional
coffee to more exotic such as pineapple or champagne. Herb-infused,
savoury granitas such as horseradish, chilli, cucumber, and mint
varieties are generally meant to be consumed much earlier in a meal’s
sequence. Other granitas are frozen infusions of herbs such as tea,
lavender, and rose petals. Sounds much like a sherbet…
All water ices are versatile and delicious in a variety of flavours so
you can serve them as a first course, an accompaniment to a fruit or
leafy salad, as a dish between courses or of course, as dessert. And
don’t forget to try your hand at making savoury water ices; simply
replace the fruit with a (salad) vegetable of your choice, or add a
dash of vodka or tequila.
The fruit can be prepared in advance, and stored in the
refrigerator at least a day before using. Just stir the two mixtures to
blend thoroughly before pouring into a container to freeze. Water ices
lose their flavour if frozen for too long.
In some recipes the fruit, flowers, herbs and/or spices are
boiled in sugar water, reduced, strained, then frozen. In other
recipes, especially for Middle Eastern sherbets, the ingredients are
simply whisked in a food processor and served over ice, or topped with