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Are There Dairy-Free Sherbets?

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Q. Are there sherbets made without dairy products? Do you know were I can find any recipes or where sherbet without dairy is sold in stores?

A. In terms of heritage, sherbet does not have dairy-based ingredients. Historically — and its history stretches back at least 1,000 years — a sherbet is a cold drink blending fruit juice and a sweetener. Sometime during the 19th century, the drinkable ice was transformed into an eatable treat.

Some sherbets do include milk, including many that are commercially produced. But don't expect to get any help from the names of sherbet-related products. While sorbet is simply the French word for sherbet, some people make a distinction that a sorbet never has dairy ingredients, while a sherbet may or may not. Similarily, while the Italian word gelato simply means "frozen," some people often assume that a gelato includes milk, while a sorbetto or a granita is strictly fruit-based.

Whom can you trust? Self-sufficiency may be the only answer. Clearly, if you are concerned about consuming dairy products, you've become adept at reading the ingredient labels on packages, and this is no time to let your guard down. The other option, and frankly, one that will provide a great deal more variety and security, is to make your own. One of our favorite books on the subject is Pamela Sheldon Johns' Gelato! (Canada, UK), in which there are dozens of sherbet and ice recipes that don't include dairy products, ranging from stand-bys such as orange, lemon, and strawberry to exotic choices such as cactus pear, rose petal, and almond.

Other sources that include dairy-free sherbets are, in our order of preference, Frozen Desserts (Canada, UK), The Ultimate Ice Cream Book (Canada, UK), Ice Creams & Sorbets (Canada, UK), and From Your Ice Cream Maker (Canada, UK).

Here is one simple recipe from Pamela Sheldon Johns' book to get you started:

Orange Sorbetto

This easy do-ahead dessert is charmingly presented in a hollowed-out orange shell.


2 oranges
2 cups spring water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 egg white


Cut the oranges in half and scoop the pulp with a spoon, taking care not to puncture the skin. Set the shells aside. Place the pulp in a blender or food processor and add the water, sugar, and orange zest. Blend until the sugar is dissolved.

Strain the pulp mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing out as much of the liquid from the pulp as possible with the back of a large spoon. Discard the pulp. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 2 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions until partially frozen. Add the egg white and continue to freeze until firm.

Scoop the sorbetto into the reserved orange shells and freeze until ready to serve.

Yield: Makes 1 quart; serves 4

Note: If salmonella is a concern where you live, substitute egg powder, pasteurized eggs, or other related products in all dishes that contain uncooked or undercooked eggs.

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