Metal bins of gelato at a gelateria in Italy.
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What Is Sorbetto? All About Italy’s Non-Dairy, Vegan Sorbet

Last updated on May 21st, 2024

Whether you are coming to Italy and need the low down on sorbetto or you simply want to try making it at home, you probably have lots of questions.

And if you have any dietary restrictions such as non-dairy or lactose or vegan, sorbetto is the perfect chilly treat for your next trip to Italy!

Here in Italy, sorbetto is almost as popular as gelato so we eat a lot of it! 

In this article I am going to give you the rundown on sorbetto including:

  • Sorbetto pronunciation in Italian
  • What is sorbetto
  • What it means and where it comes from
  • How sorbetto is made, kept and served
  • When to eat sorbetto
  • Popular sorbetto flavors
  • Other similar desserts to sorbetto

How To Pronounce Sorbetto In Italian

Sorbet in Italian is sorbetto, pronounced sohr-beht-toh.

Listen to the pronunciation of sorbetto here

What Is Sorbetto? 

Hand holding a cone of gelato in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.

Sorbetto or sorbet is made in the same way as gelato but with a base of water, fruit and sugar instead of milk. It’s dairy-free and vegan. 

Fruit in sorbet is pureed and added to the sugar and water base, making for a smooth, uniformly colored treat. Most of the time, it doesn’t have chunks of fruit. 

Nice To Know: Sorbetto isn’t always fruit flavored! Dark chocolate or coffee sorbetto is also a fixture in many gelaterias!

Sorbetto is still slow churned like gelato but it will have a much lower fat content, if any. 

Gelaterias in Italy will have a section of sorbetti on their flavor menu of the day which will be listed on the side or in another section on the flavor board. It’s also labeled as vegan or senza latte.

Fact: Fruit flavored gelato is not necessarily dairy-free! Fruit flavors can either be milk or water-based so be sure to ask if it doesn’t specify sorbetto.

Turquoise wooden sign advertizes gelato without gluten, vegan gelato, and more.

Sorbetto Characteristics: 

  • Low or fat-free
  • Vegan
  • Dairy Free
  • Light and fresh
  • Made with seasonal flavors
  • Kept at around 10° F (-4° C), same as gelato.

What’s The Difference Between Sorbet And Sorbetto?

There is no difference between sorbet and sorbetto from an actual food point of view. Rather, the difference lies in the language. 

Sorbetto is simply the Italian translation of the French word sorbet, originally stemming from ancient Arabic. 

What Does Sorbet Mean?

Close up of colorful gelato in metal bins in a gelateria in Italy.

Sorbet comes from the Italian word sorbetto. Sorbetto can be traced back to the Turkish word sharbat, referring to a fruit-based drink made with snow. Sharbat is rooted in the Arabic verb shariba, which means “to drink”.

Fact: Sorbet is actually a French word that has been adopted and assimilated into the English language. 

Where Did Sorbetto Come From?

The first form of sorbetto can be traced back to ancient times, first with the Chinese, Arabs and ancient Romans but it wasn’t until the Arabs took up roots in Sicily and shared their love for sharbat that the tradition of sorbetto and granita started to spread throughout Italy. 

Sicily was a natural location to make sorbetto and granita because snow could easily be carted down from Mount Etna. This tradition of frozen treats was also easily practiced up north in Veneto where snow was taken from the Dolomites.

How Is Sorbetto Made?

close up if a basket of cherries from top view

Sorbetto is made the same way as gelato by mixing the base ingredients, adding the flavoring and adding it to a gelato machine where it’s churned slowly to create a dense, flavorful frozen treat. Read more about How Gelato is Made.

Sorbetto is also quite easy to make at home. You can either use fresh or frozen fruit but I suggest you go with the season. Go for peaches, apricots and strawberries in the summer but stick to pears and citrus in the winter. 

The fruit is then pureed, strained and added to a simple syrup mixture of water and sugar. The whole mixture can then be popped into an ice-cream machine (I like the Kitchen Aid attachment) and churned until frozen. 

Tip: When making sorbetto at home, be careful not to over churn the mixture because it can go from creamy to icy in a minute! The moment you see it come together, turn the machine off and transfer the sorbetto to the freezer. 

The amount of sugar you add is going to depend on how sweet your fruit is and personal preference. True Italian sorbetto relies more on the natural sugars in the fruit, adding less sugar than in sorbetto base.

How To Keep And Serve Sorbetto

If you make homemade sorbetto, it will keep well for about one month in the freezer before the composition starts to change. 

Remove the sorbetto from the freezer about 5 minutes before serving to ease the scooping process. Sorbetto is best enjoyed in pre-chilled cups so that it doesn’t melt as quickly, especially in the summer. 

In Italy, sorbetto is either served in a cup or a cone when you order it at a gelateria.

When To Eat Sorbetto

Storefront of Grom Gelateria in Florence, Italy. Three women eating gelato outside accompanied by their dog.

Because sorbetto is much lighter than other desserts such as gelato, it’s best enjoyed after heavier meals. 

The best time of year to eat sorbetto is during the summer. It’s very refreshing and helps to alleviate feelings of being overly hot. 

Sorbetto is also enjoyed in small amounts between multiple course meals as a way to cleanse the palate. You will see very fancy, high-end restaurants offering a very small dish, usually just a bite or two of sorbetto to help remove one taste from your mouth before starting on the next course. 

Sorbetto can be added to other types of desserts or can be paired with simple gelato flavors such as crema or fiordilatte. Here in Italy we eat sorbetto as a snack between meals, especially during the summer because it’s much more refreshing. 

Learn how to order sorbetto in read How To Order Gelato In Italy – Step-by-Step Guide + Tips.

Popular Sorbetto Flavors In Italy

Handwritten sign listing gelato flavors with and without milk at a gelateria in Italy.

Sorbet flavors are made based on availability and what is in season. For the best sorbets, choose what is seasonal and you won’t be disappointed. For a full list of sorbet flavors and a seasonal fruit calendar read Italian Gelato Flavors.

  • Limone – lemon
  • Agrumi – citrus fruits including orange, mandarin orange, grapefruit and lemon
  • Fragola – strawberry 
  • Susine – plum
  • Cioccolato fondente – dark chocolate
  • Caffè – coffee

Other Desserts Similar to Sorbetto

Man serving a granita at Carabè Gelateria in Florence, Italy.

To learn the ins and outs of all Italian frozen treats, read about the Differences Between Gelato, Sorbetto and Granita.

Granita

Granita is made with fruit juices or other flavored liquids such as coffee, sugar and water. It’s then frozen and stirred from time to time as it freezes, giving it a grainy texture, much more so than both sorbetto and cremolata.

Cremolata

Cremolata is a frozen dessert made from pureed fruit blended together with sugar and water to make a smooth, almost creamy frozen dessert. Unlike sorbetto, it’s made with the whole fruit and thus, full of fiber. 

Shaved Ice

With roots in Asia, shaved ice is made exactly as its name suggests by literally shaving ice into fluffy flakes that are in turn flavored with sweet syrups. It’s much more crunchy compared to sorbetto

Sherbet

Which can also be called gelato alla frutta (fruit gelato) made with a milk base instead of a water base. It’s much more creamy and has a higher fat content than sorbetto.

Learn More: Read about the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream (& Other Italian Frozen Treats).

Sorbetto vs. Sherbet

Metal bins filled with gelato and sorbetto at a gelateria in Italy.

The biggest difference between sorbetto and sherbet (also known as sherbert in the US) is the ingredients with which they are made. As noted, sorbetto is made with sugar, water and most often, fruit juice. 

Sherbert, however, is made with a base of milk or cream, sugar and fruit. Because of this, the consistency of sherbert is much more creamy when compared to sorbetto which tends to have a slightly icy element to it. 

Sorbetto caters to vegans, dairy and lactose-free folks. It’s one of the few desserts that ticks every box in terms of allergies and food intolerances. This is not the case with sherbet. 

Good To Know: Sherbet is not vegan or dairy-free or lactose-free!

What Is Sorbetto FAQ

Is sorbet and sorbetto the same thing?

Yes, sorbetto is just the Italian word for sorbet. 

What is sorbet called in Italian?

Sorbet is called sorbetto in Italian.

Is sorbetto healthier than ice cream?

Sorbetto is considered healthier than ice cream because it’s generally fat-free or low-fat. 

What type of food is sorbetto?

Sorbetto is a frozen treat, similar to gelato but made with a base of water, sugar and fruit. It’s dairy and lactose-free and vegan. 

Is sorbet a yogurt?

Sorbet is not a yogurt but rather a vegan frozen dessert made from a base of water, fruit and sugar. No eggs or dairy is used. 

Is sorbetto the same as Italian ice?

Sorbetto is not the same as Italian ice. Sorbetto is smooth and almost creamy while Italian ice is more similar to cremolata or grainy shaved ice flavored with fruit.