Cool, sweet and refreshing, sorbets are perhaps best-known as delicious palate-cleansers served between courses at fine-dining restaurants, and in recent years they have become increasingly popular on tasting menus. They are typically made from fruit and sugar - sometimes wine or liquor - and churned for a smooth, melt-in-the mouth consistency.
People have been eating sorbet for hundreds of years, and it is actually an early ancestor of modern ice cream. It is closely related to sherbet and granita, but sherbet contains dairy, while sorbet is dairy-free, and granita is scraped rather than churned, creating a coarser, crunchier texture. It’s exact origins are shrouded in mystery, with various legends making it a favourite treat of the Roman Emperor Nero, who supposedly boiled slaves in oil if they were too slow in preparing it, or an exotic novelty brought back from the Chinese court by Marco Polo.
In fact, it is now commonly thought that sorbet originated in the Middle East, and most likely in Persia. The first mention of it in Europe was a medieval Italian reference to a treat enjoyed by the ‘Turks', which was then used as an umbrella term for anyone of Middle Eastern origin. These Middle Eastern treats were known as ‘serbet’ or ‘sherbet’, meaning ‘sweet snow’, and were flavoured with ingredients like pomegranate, rosewater or orange blossom.
Unlike modern sherbet, these early versions did not yet contain milk or cream, and were far more similar to what we would now call sorbets. It is not known how it was first introduced to Europe, but by the mid to late 17th century sorbet had become firmly associated with the Italian city of Naples, and the name ‘serbet’ had become ‘sorbetto’. These ‘Italian-style ices,’ as they were known, became a must-have for the rich and fashionable nobility of Europe. They were an extravagant show of wealth and status, with many people importing ice from places like Norway in order to have their chefs make some.
Thanks to modern refrigeration techniques, sorbet is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, and we can all enjoy a scoop or two for dessert, or just as a light, refreshing snack on a hot day. You don’t need to employ a chef to make it for you, either. Now we have the freezing side of things under control, making your own sorbet couldn’t be easier, and there are plenty of tempting flavours to choose from.
Lemon sorbet ice: it doesn’t get much more Italian than lemon sorbet. A true classic, with an inimitable zesty freshness, our lemon sorbet recipe has a shot or two of limoncello for an added boozy twist. Serve inside a hollowed out lemon for a fun, summer look.
Mango sorbet with raspberry sauce and basil: mango sorbet really is the perfect summer dessert, and we couldn’t resist adding another to our list. Here, the fragrant taste of mango blends beautifully with the sharp sweetness of the raspberry sauce.
Melon sorbet with lavender: a subtle, grown-up sorbet, with the delicate flavour of two varieties of melon and a touch of orange liqueur, garnished with melon balls and a few sprigs of lavender.
Cucumber sorbet: this unusual savoury cucumber sorbet is a little like the most refreshing salad you’ve ever tried. Made with cool cucumber and mint, tangy yoghurt and fiery horseradish, it’s full of complex and tasty flavours to delight your taste buds.
Nectarine and watermelon sorbet: sweet nectarines and cool watermelon are another winning combination, and with a little rosé wine added to the mix, this fun and fruity sorbet turns the prettiest shade of pink.
Champagne sorbet: these champagne sorbet popsicles are pure icy decadence. And if that wasn’t enough, they come served with two delicious sauces - one raspberry, and one chocolate. Those old-time aristocrats would surely approve.
How to serve it
Let your sorbet soften a little before you serve it, so it dissolves in the mouth when you take a spoonful. This helps to enhance the flavour, too, as very cold things simply numb the taste buds. Move the sorbet from the freezer to the fridge for 30 minutes before serving, and it should be melt-in-the-mouth perfect.
When it comes to presentation, simple is best. An elegant dessert glass with a long stem is the classic way to serve sorbet, or, for a more fun look, try serving citrus sorbets inside hollowed-out fruit peel.
If you want to recreate a little of that luxury formerly associated with a good sorbet, try matching it with a specially-selected wine pairing. For bolder, sweeter fruit flavours, sparkling rosés such as sparkling rosé Bordeaux, sparkling rosé Crémant de Bordeaux, sparkling rosé Champagne or sparkling rosé Champagne grand cru all work well. For a more mellow flavour, like melon or pear, try a sweet white wine like Barsac or Bordeaux Côtes de Francs sweet white.