Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sherbet refers to both a sweet chilled drink and a lush frozen dessert. Although it resists strict definition, sherbet is a delight to drink or eat. The name derives from the medieval Arabic sharāb, meaning a drink or a dose of water, medicine, or other liquid; this word was adopted into Urdu as sharbat and into Turkish as şerbet. By the late Middle Ages sharāb had become a notorious euphemism for an alcoholic beverage; the alternate form sharbāt (along with sharbat and şerbet) came to mean a sweet, nonalcoholic, fruit-based beverage, not necessarily chilled. The essential thing about a şerbet is sweetness, which is considered auspicious in Turkey and the Middle East. In Turkish, “To sense someone’s pulse and serve sherbet” means to use tact. In Egypt, the phrase “sherbet flows in her veins” means that a woman is sweet, delightful company; it does not mean that she is cold-blooded.