What's The Difference Between Sorbet, Sherbet, Froyo, Ice Cream, And Gelato?

Decode your frozen treats and fill your summer with happy brain freezes.

On a hot summer's day we all want a frozen treat, but there are an astounding amount of options that suit a range of tastes and occasions. You might just be pretending you know what the difference between sorbet and sherbet is, hoping that no one asks you to clarify. But understanding what distinguishes all these frozen desserts will help you find the most satisfying scoop (or swirl).


Sorbet has always been a dessert I would describe as refreshing rather than indulgent. The bright, fruit-based flavors are a perfectly light and cool summertime treat. As for its name and origin, this frozen dessert has roots in Middle Eastern culture and the Arabic language.


Seattle Sorbets explains that sorbet comes from a similarly spelled Middle Eastern drink called charbet, which is made of sweetened fruit juice and water. The the word "charbet," or "sherbet," comes from the Turkish word "serbet" or "sorbet," which stems from an Arabic word "sharbāt," which translates to "drink" or "juice." Are you keeping up here?

The basis of sorbet is a combination of water, a sweetener like sugar or honey, and a fruit puree. Sorbet is vegan, so if you're considering a plant-based diet, you can add this ice cream alternative to the growing list of foods you don't have to miss out on.


Sherbet is quite similar to sorbet both in terms of ingredients and word origin. I'll admit that I often confused the two desserts growing up, probably because I just assumed they were synonyms for the same thing.


However, sherbet is much creamier than sorbet for the simple fact that it contains dairy whereas sorbet does not. The main ingredients in sherbet include fruit, water, sugar, other flavorings, and milk or cream. Some recipes incorporate egg whites or gelatin to achieve a range of textures. You can also flavor sherbet with wine or liqueurs.

In the United States, federal regulations dictate that sherbets must contain a minimum of 1% and a maximum of 2% milkfat.

Frozen yogurt

Frozen yogurt, or froyo, is probably the easiest of all to define because, well, it's all in the name. It's yogurt that's been frozen, with a few additives when it's mass-produced. To be quite honest, though froyo can come in a variety of flavors from light and fruity to chocolatey and rich, its natural tanginess best serves as a canvas for fun toppings.


Frozen yogurt franchises like Yogurtland and TCBY boast more than 30 toppings at any given time, and rather than charge by the scoop, these build-your-own concepts charge customers based on the weight of each purchase. This shows how much more important the toppings are to the average consumer than the actual frozen yogurt. Your dog would love some, too.

Ice Cream

Traditional ice cream, the king, the classic, comes in an endless array of flavors and assortments. It's the go-to treat we all know and love, but just in case you've never really thought about what makes it ice cream, here is the key: cream or butterfat, milk, sugar, and flavorings. What more can be said about ice cream? We love it, and with continued innovations in the dairy-free substitution market, nearly everyone can enjoy it.



Ice cream's Italian cousin, gelato, is known for being dense, creamy, and delicious. The Food Network explains that in order to be "authentic," gelato contains more milk than ice cream, and doesn't use egg yolks as ice cream does.


Additionally, gelato includes has less fat than ice cream, around 4% to 9%. The lack of fat content makes gelato's flavors more intense than the typical American scoop, and because our standard ice cream has more air whipped into it, gelato is comparably denser and creamier.

All of these frozen treats have one thing in common: they might give you a brain freeze, but that's a risk you're probably willing to take.