Food Snob Chronicles – Ice Cream 101: We also scream for sherbet … and sorbet! (Recipe: Coconut Sorbet w/ Kaffir Lime Syrup)

When it comes to frozen desserts, it’s a jungle out there — a veritable potpourri of cold-to-the-tongue treats. And distinguishing between our frosty fancies can be quite confusing.

In a nutshell, ice cream and ice milk only differ by a few percentage points, while sherbet and sorbet are considered the same thing in some places. Meanwhile, ordering a sorbet in other places might net you a cup of Italian ice and a plastic spoon. Still confused? Read on.

Ice Cream
Ice Cream, in the U.S. anyway, is widely considered to be the king of frozen desserts. It’s so popular that the en vogue frozen yogurt joints still find themselves listed under ‘ice cream’ in the Yellow Pages; and snow cone vendors are still commonly referred to as ‘the ice cream man’ by parents who quickly pass pocket change to eager sweet-toothed children.

But there’s more to ice cream. Much more.

To be labeled as ice cream in the U.S., the product must contain at least 10 percent milk fat. Everything else is pretty much up in the air, although most nationally available brands also contain about the same percentage of sweeteners and milk solids.

Did you know?  Ice cream might well have been President George Washington’s favorite food. He spent about $200 on it during the summer of 1790, according to the records of a New York shop owner. That’s about $5,000 in 2013 money!

Of course, most of us don’t care why it’s called ice cream. We just crave it — about six gallons per year, on average. Our favorite flavor? According to most of the major ice cream manufacturers, Americans favor vanilla. It’s the number one seller.

Ice Milk
Along with Shasta brand sodas, our treats during my childhood often consisted of chocolate-covered ice milk bars. But, now that I think about it … what the heck is ice milk?

It’s simply ice cream with less than 10 percent milk fat.

Just like chicken wings though, ice milk became quite popular (and more expensive) when a marketing expert decided to start calling it Low Fat Ice Cream. Go figure.

I always thought of sherbet as the orange-flavored stuff that came in quart-sized containers — eaten only when one has just had his tonsils ripped out. As it turns out, sherbet is pretty damn good when you’re healthy. And it even comes in the flavors of green and red!

Technically in the U.S., sherbet must have between 1 and 2 percent milk fat content. It’s typically fruit-flavored.

Have I mislabeled the most popular recipe in the history of this website? Oh my!

I still remember my first sorbet experience. It was also my first upscale restaurant happening. I was 15 and was just happy to be eating (what I considered to be) ice cream between meal courses. Though, the smaller spoon was somewhat of a pain.

There’s really no official (government) designation for sorbet in the U.S. But it does not contain dairy. And, if you’re eating it from a baby spoon at one of those black tie-required joints, it’s served merely as a palate cleanser. (Water is more effective, by the way.)

Did you know?  Alexander the Great was fond of snow flavored with honey and nectar.

So, what makes the sorbet served at a Michelin-rated restaurant different from the $3 Italian ice you buy from a street vendor?

Only the ambience and size of the spoon.

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Indeed, a sorbet is intended to cleanse the palate. But this sorbet is just as delicious as a light dessert. If you don’t have access to Kaffir Lime leaves for the syrup, use the rind from a lime instead.

Coconut Sorbet w/ Kaffir Lime Syrup

You put the Kaffir Lime in the coconut, and it's pure refreshment.

You put the Kaffir Lime in the coconut, and it’s pure refreshment.

Coconut Sorbet w/ Kaffir Lime Syrup
Recipe type: Dessert
For the Coconut Sorbet
  • 2- 13½ oz cans – Coconut Milk (unsweetened)
  • 1 cup – Coconut
  • ½ cup – Sugar*
  • 1 tsp – Rum extract
For the Kaffir Lime Syrup
  • 4-5 – Fresh Kaffir Lime leaves (or 8-10 dry leaves)
  • 1 cup – sugar
  • 1 cup – water
Make the sorbet
  1. Combine 1 can coconut milk, coconut and sugar (*slightly less than ½ cup sugar if using sweetened coconut) in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a slight boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring regularly.
  3. Once sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes), remove from heat and cool.
  4. Add the other can of coconut milk and the rum extract.
  5. Transfer cooled mixture to an 11x7x2 (or similarly sized) baking dish.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap, stir occasionally — about every 30-45 minutes — until frozen, about three hours.
Make the syrup
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Remove from heat, cool and strain.
  4. Drizzle over Coconut Sorbet.
  5. May be kept at room temperature for a day or two, or refrigerated for a couple of weeks.




  1. yummmmm

  2. Taking On Magazines says:

    Viva la vanilla!

  3. Wowwzeee, really easy…sounds fabulous…thanks for the cool history on the sweet cold treats, darlin!

  4. Yum, but I can’t imagine spending $5000 in one summer! Must have been a hot summer. :)

  5. I am all about coconut this season and I’ve never made sorbet… I’m thinking I’ve got to get around to trying this.

  6. That coconut sorbet looks incredible. My mom used to serve us ice milk for dessert. She never bought the full fat stuff. She said it wasn’t good for us, but you can bet when we could get our hands on it, that’s what we chose.

    • We would occasionally have ice cream in the house, but there was plenty of ice milk too. Neither one of them are ‘good’ for you — especially when you drown it in chocolate syrup. :-)

  7. That coconut sorbet looks fantastic and I’m already thinking of ways to use the Kaffir Lime simple syrup in my next cocktail! ;)

  8. My sweet tooth is pretty much reserved for ice cream. Love it. And this sorbet looks wonderful. Now I don’t know what to make first, the enchiladas, the burgers or this. You’re killin me with all these great recipes.

  9. Very nice Adam. My eldest has started making sorbet. It gives me sinus headaches but it is excellent.

  10. 6 gallons of ice cream per year…sheesh that’s nothing. New Englanders go through that much per month in the winter. I will tell you that having an ice cream truck in this area is a money maker. When I had my truck back in 1970, I used to clear about $350/week. I just checked the conversion on that and it comes to $2,131.57 per week in today’s dollars. Not bad for a struggling college student.

    • That’s not bad at all, Diane! Were you a Mr. Softee driver?

      • No, the bar types – ice cream sandwiches, push ups, Italian Ice…and it was the old fashioned truck w/the little door in the bag so I had to get out for my customers. It was good exercise. Better than my stint pumping gas…

        • What a great read! There are several blog-post alerts that don’t find their way to my inbox like they should. Yours is apparently one of them. I’m sorry for not reading earlier.

          • Aw that’s okay, I’ll still love ya and I do love reading all of your posts. I’ve been so caught up with details on this kitchen remodel & yes, we’ve had wonderful weather here which means time to get out & whack those weeds…so I haven’t been posting much this past month but having fun reading other posts.

          • Our kitchen re-do is like a never-ending project. It began more than a year ago and we have since begun building two new rooms (and an additional bathroom) onto the house.

          • Geez, and I’m trying to keep our remodel under control by at least saving the current kitchen ceiling (it’s that swirl pattern & I’d love to have the flat). It sounds to me like the Holland Mansion will be able to accommodate plenty of visitors – maybe a bed & breakfast for your readers to come sample your kitchen creations?

          • Hardly. The kitchen was one of those circa 1960s/1970s boxy (tiny) things with horribly planned cabinets. Meanwhile, there was a breakfast area just to the other side of it. — What we did was take in the breakfast area, cut a door in the brick (leading to the outside in the former breakfast area) and make it a galley-style. Other than a little clean-up work, all that is left is the granite counters. We had them on order, then we found them cheaper. Then we probably spent the money on something else. (We’re paying cash as we go, and also not dipping into savings). I also am waiting on my range. Again. We had the money and tried to order it from an outfit in KC — but it was the last one at that price, so I’m just waiting… We will have the largest dining room of anyone I know, just because that room (adjacent to the kitchen) was previously the living room. I thought it’d be nice for the kitchen to flow into the dining area — and for the dining area to have a big-ass fireplace (which we rarely use, but still).

          • I agree with you on having the kitchen flow into the dining area. My neighbor has that layout, including a fireplace and it’s just such a great area to congregate. We’re off to the granite yard this Thurs. to pick that out, then the floor tiles & then it’s just a matter of everything getting made up & arriving. We just had tax free weekend here & I took care of all the appliances which they’re holding on delivery until everything else is done. We have to get all this before the snow flies – major projects up here are no fun when workers are in & out with snow & mud on the ground.

          • We didn’t have much of a choice on the layout, though we briefly considered converting the 2-car garage into a kitchen. Catherine wanted an island, but there’s just not enough room for one. She’ll settle for a bar instead. After the kitchen/bedroom/office add-ons, which I expect to be fully complete by January, she is chomping at the bit for a pool. I’ll go along with it, so long as I get some money in the budget for an outdoor kitchen. ;-)


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