I thought I loved Sherbert. I thought it was a tasty treat that was basically the same as Sorbet. So much so, that I had guessed that they were essentially the same thing. Sorbet was the French recipe, Sherbert the English. Boy was I wrong.
First of all, they don’t have Sherbert in the U.S. They have Sherbet. There is no second R. I’m going to pause while you stare at the sentence below and reality sinks in.
Why the hell does everyone still call it Sherbert? It’s insane! Last night, I was buying some at the store, and the friendly old man who works nights commented on it. “Oooh, Swiss Orange Sherbert with dark chocolate chips! That looks excellent!” He read the lable, and without even thinking he added the second R! We all do!
I remember when I first noticed. I was shopping at Larry’s Market (R.I.P.) and noticed that the not quite Ice Cream was called Sherbet. I assumed it was because it was some crazy organic brand that was using some non-standard spelling. So I continued looking, and noticed they ALL said Sherbet. The world spun. Nothing made sense. Had I been saying and hearing it wrong all this time, or was everyone saying it wrong. It was a world gone mad.
I decided to do some research, and once again the foundations of my world were rocked. They had Sherbet in the U.K., but not like you know it. Originally a sweet, fruit flavored powder which would be added to water in order to create a fizzy drink, the powder was now typically consumed on it’s own, often with a candy stick or lollypop. Think Pixy Stix or Fun Dip, but with the effervescing power of Pop Rocks.
More shocking still, Sherbert did exist! It was what they called U.K. Sherbet in Australia and New Zealand. How did this happen? How had the spelling and pronunciation for two entirely different types of sweets come into use on opposite sides of the planet?
I continued to learn about Sherbet, and found that some of my early ideas weren’t far off. It comes from the Persian word Sharbat, which means “drink.” It refered specifically to a fruit puree drink, often cooled with snow. Unsuprisingly, this is indeed the same root word as Sorbet. The practical difference in the US is that Sherbet includes a small amount of milk (less than Ice Cream), some egg white and/or gelatin.
Finally, there’s an interesting coincidence. The only slang terms I was able to find in actual use (Wikipedia often includes some fairly Apocryphal slang) are Sherbet as a term for Cocaine in the U.K., and Sherbert as a term for Beer in Australia. It strikes me as interesting that the fizzing powder version should function as slang for intoxicants, while the delicious not-quite-ice-cream remains entirely wholesome.