Water ices and sorbets (a.k.a. “sorbetto” when presented for sale/consumption alongside gelato) can be considered sherbets without dairy ingredients. Water ices are compositions of water, sugar, corn syrup, and color/flavor. Sorbets are “upscale water ices” using fruit primarily as the source of solids.
Sometimes produced as quiescently (without stirring) frozen novelties, sometimes aerated, it should be noted that of the categories “water ice,” “sorbet” and “Italian Ice,” only “water ice” has a standard of identity. In this case, the standard specifies that no dairy is allowed. Here ends simplicity.
Let’s take a closer look.
Modern compositions of water ices/sorbets consist of water, one or more source(s) of sweetness (sources of sweetness more varied as ever before), one or more bulking agents, an acidulant (assuming acid-type characterizing flavors applied), flavor(s), color(s),stabilizer(s),and, if whipped (aerated) and/or extruded, an emulsifier(s). Thus, water ices and sorbets can be quite complex in compositional targets, ingredient choices, mix processing (or not?), and conditions under which mix may be whipped/frozen.
The incorporation of overrun (air) in the process freezer (batch or continuous) can be accomplished via use of properly selected emulsifiers. Extruded water ices can be produced through use of specially designed combinations of stabilizers and emulsifiers. For extruded water ices, this also allows for superior plate release after the quick-hardening tunnel. Finished goods can be packaged for retail, or foodservice (dip shop), sale; molded/extruded as a handheld novelty; or used as a bulky ingredient to be injected (i.e. variegated), into other soft frozen dessert compositions. Beyond this, variations of the theme exist.
Water Ices: Among variants are fully sugared, reduced sugar, no sugars added, sugar-free, reduced-calorie and low-calorie products; aerated or not; to be filled or extruded. In fully sugared water ices, typical solids composition will be — 2/3 as sucrose — 1/3 as 36 DE corn syrup at 28-32% total solids. Pretty basic.
While managing freezing point depression, the addition of hydrocolloid stabilizer(s) may be desirable to ensure desired eating qualities (bite/chew; texture) in the final water ice. Don’t want an ice cube, but, eating qualities can vary substantially. If aerated, some source(s) of emulsification may be added. These emulsifiers typically will be of the low HLB (more lipophilic than hydrophilic) in functionality and not added to emulsify fat-in-water but to “emulsify” air-in-water. The extent of mix aeration (~ 5-10% overrun) and freezing will again influence the behavior (flow) of the final water ice, its final composition, eating quality, and, ultimately, the cost in terms of ingredient cost and yields.
Sorbet (a.k.a. sorbetto): As noted, sorbets can be considered a whipped (~ 20-25% overrun) “upscale” water ice where the predominant source of solids is from fruit, fruit puree, fruit juice, and/or fruit juice concentrate(s). The use of fruit-based ingredients makes true sugar-free and reduced calorie targets a bit more difficult. However, reduced sugars, no sugars added, reduced/low calorie formulations with/without use of sugar alcohols and/or high intensity sweeteners are indeed possible. It is necessary to remember, sorbets in dip shop environments can be packed in tubs for dipping or in shallow pans, later to be presented and managed under the exact point-of-sale conditions as classical gelatos. In packaged format, sorbets need to be managed exactly same as other frozen desserts through the frozen dessert supply chain.
Water ices/sorbets as frozen dessert “ingredients:” Water ices and sorbets are usually “fat-free” (although a coconut-based sorbet could contain a small amount of coconut fat) and may easily be variegated into other soft frozen desserts of all types (standard dairy, non-standard dairy, plant-based) to reduce total fat per serving in the final food. In some instances, even non-acid flavors, such as vanilla and chocolate, may be desirable and possible. When considered as a variegated “flavorant,” water ices and sorbets need to be properly matched to the other flavored frozen dessert portion of the final food. This allows accurate flavor delivery, deliver the appropriate visual appeal, prevent migration of water and water-soluble components (color? flavor? acid? other?) from the water ice/sorbet side to the other soft frozen dessert side. Water ice/sorbet(s) variegated into other water ice/sorbet(s) is also possible.
Not to forget — As for all frozen desserts, in all such applications, management of freezing point and related factors, water mobility, and resistance to heat shock remain paramount to achieving any desired body (bite/chew), texture (smoothness), and resistance to heat shock.
Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from Tharp & Young on Ice Cream: An Encyclopedic Guide to Ice Cream Science and Technology (B. W. Tharp & L. S. Young; 2012; 400 pages; DesTech Publications.)