In efforts to beat the summer heat, you may have encountered two different spellings of the same scrumptious treat: sherbet and sherbert. Why do both forms exist, and which one is correct?
Sherbet (pronounced “shur-bit”) is the standard American spelling for the frozen mixture made from fruit and an additive of either milk, egg white, or gelatin. It comes from the name of a Persian drink made of fruit juice, water, sweetener, and a cooling component such as snow. This refreshment was called sharbat after the Arabic word sharbah for “a drink.” Sherbert (pronounced “shur-bert”) is a common misspelling of sherbet that resulted from a common mispronunciation. Its prevalence has resulted in its inclusion in some dictionaries as an alternative spelling.
Both pronunciations will get you a scoop of a light, frozen, fruit-based refreshment in the US. But take note that if you order sherbet in the UK you may get something else entirely. In British English, sherbet is more commonly used to refer to a sweet powder that can be made into an effervescent drink by adding water.
Sherbet is distinct from ice cream primarily by its level of butterfat: in the US, sherbet must contain between 1 and 2 percent butterfat, whereas ice cream must have least 10 percent. Sherbet might also be confused with sorbet, the name for which also comes from the Arabic sharbah. Unlike sherbet, sorbet does not contain dairy, making it a great alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.
How do you pronounce sherbet? Do you prefer sherbet or sherbert?