Is Sorbet Vegan?
Sorbet has its origins in the Near and Middle East. In the middle ages, people in countries like Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan invented a frozen dessert made with fruit and flower petals, called sharbat. Modern sorbet is quite similar to the original Ottoman dessert, but without flower petals. Sorbet is most often safe for a vegan diet.
Ingredients of Sorbet
Sorbet, in essence, is simply a frozen blend of fruit, water, and sugar. Many premade sorbets are, in fact, vegan. But, as we all know, commercial food manufacturers are fond of putting lots of food additives and extraneous ingredients in their products. When you look at the ingredients list of a sorbet you find at the supermarket, you might see any combination of the following ingredients (animal products are placed in bold text):
- Fruit puree
- Fruit juice
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Artificial sweeteners
- Natural coloring
- Artificial coloring
- Natural flavor
- Artificial flavor
- Mono- and diglycerides
- Various other preservatives and emulsifiers
Dairy Products? In My Sorbet?
Now, the term "sorbet" is not regulated by any industry authority. This means that dessert companies can label any recipe they want as "sorbet", even if the recipe strays from the traditional blend of fruit puree, water, and sweetener. This is why you might find that some brands contain things like:
- Egg whites
Sorbet or Sherbet?
Note that there is a difference between sorbet and sherbet. Most sorbets you come across have a good chance of being vegan. But, sherbet always contains dairy products—unless it's from a specialty vegan brand that uses nut milk or coconut milk in place of dairy.
Non-Vegan Sorbet Ingredients
Let's go into more detail about what animal products could be lurking in your freezer, and why manufacturers might include such ingredients. Despite the fact that traditionally, sorbet only is supposed to contain fruit, water, and sugar, don't make the mistake of assuming all sorbet is vegan. Potential animal ingredients of sorbet include milk, cream, egg whites, honey, mono- and diglycerides, natural coloring, and natural flavor.
Milk and Cream
Milk and cream are present in some sorbets, especially creamy flavors, chocolate flavors, and chocolate-covered sorbet pops. Dairy products impart a creaminess to the dessert that you can also achieve with nut milk and coconut milk. If you want a creamy sorbet, choose brands that use nut or coconut milk instead of dairy, or use these vegan ingredients in place of dairy when making your own sorbet.
Every once in a while, sorbet is made with honey (an animal product) in place of plant-based sugar. This is pretty rare, but be sure to check that your sorbet isn't made with honey if you want to stay strictly vegan.
Mono- and diglycerides are additives that may be derived from plants or animals, but since food labels don't specify how these ingredients are sourced, some vegans will want to avoid them. Egg whites, monoglycerides, and diglycerides all share the same purpose. These non-vegan ingredients are used to emulsify the product—in other words, the ingredients bind oil and water together to keep the product from separating or crumbling. Emulsifiers need not be derived from animal products. Choose sorbet that uses soy lecithin in place of animal-derived emulsifying agents, or that do not include emulsifiers in the first place.
Natural Colors and Flavors
Natural coloring and natural flavor sound inoffensive to most people, probably due to the word "natural". However, be aware that natural coloring and flavor can be animal-sourced. Food manufacturers aren't required to reveal their confidential dye and flavor formulas, and so the label on your sorbet won't specify where the natural coloring and flavor were sourced. Some strict vegans may want to avoid foods containing natural coloring and natural flavor because of this. One example of animal-based natural coloring is carmine, a red dye made from the cochineal beetle. An example of animal-derived natural flavor is castoreum, a substance taken from the scent glands of beavers and used to create a vanilla, raspberry, or strawberry flavor.
How to Make Your Own Vegan Sorbet
Skip the hassle of checking the label of every sorbet at the grocery store. Making your own sorbet gives you total control over the ingredients. It's really simple to make your own dairy free sorbet. You can use this recipe with almost any fruit: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, pineapple, banana, peach, plum, or any combination you can dream of.
- 3 cups any ripe fruit, sliced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cold water
- A pinch of salt
- Puree fruit in a food processor until smooth.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine fruit puree, sugar, and salt.
- Stirring occasionally, heat until hot but not boiling.
- Whisk cornstarch into cold water.
- Stir cornstarch mixture into heated puree.
- Stir in lemon or lime juice.
- Refrigerate the mixture for 2 hours.
- Freeze in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can still easily make sorbet. Pour the puree mixture into a shallow dish and place it in the freezer. Stir occasionally, about every 30 minutes, until the sorbet reaches the consistency you like.
Of course, if you're using an intensely sour fruit like lemon or lime you'll have to adjust the recipe. Click here for a video about making lemon sorbet (no animal products necessary!).
To Sum It Up
In its purest traditional form, sorbet is a completely vegan dessert. However, some commercially available sorbets contain animal products. Always check the label before buying sorbet, or just make your own! The stereotype that vegan diets are plain and austere does not have to hold true. With some delectable vegan dessert recipes under your belt, including vegan sorbet and vegan choco-banana-nut ice cream, you can indulge and never feel deprived of treats during the summer.