A short guide of frozen desserts: Sherbets, Sorbets, Shave Ice, Granita and Halo Halo

The enjoyment of frozen desserts and treats is almost universal. These treats are loved all over the world by both children and adults alike. It is remarkable to consider the variety in the different  cultures and cuisines they appear. Italians can defend their gelatos and granitas, Mexicans their paletas, Japanese their mochi and Americans their snow cones and sundaes. This article talks about sherbets, sorbets, shave iced, granita, halo halo and raspados: what is the difference?


Grocery Store Rainbow Sherbet
Grocery Store Rainbow Sherbet
Commercial Sorbet
Grocery Store Strawberry Hibiscus Sorbet

Sherbet in the US came to be used for frozen mixtures that contain milk. This dessert is actually a puree or sweetened fruit juice frozen with milk, egg whites, light cream, or gelatin that is guaranteed to have less fat content. In fact, the United States government regulated manufacturers of the dessert to strictly maintain a milkfat content of around 1% to 2% only though requiring the product to be a bit sweeter than ice cream. Otherwise, the product is automatically labeled as ice cream in the market. So feel safe to grab that sherbet-labeled item in the grocery shelf.

💡Did you know?

Sherbet used to be both a sweet chilled drink and a lush frozen dessert. It originates from the Arabic word sharāb that meant drink or a dose of liquid, water or medicine which by the late Middle Ages meant alcoholic beverages.  The Turkish variation şerbet meant a sweet non-alcoholic beverage. One of the most quintessential qualities of şerbet  is its sweetness that was considered auspicious in Turkey.

Traditionally, sherbets serve as a medicinal drink in Turkey, where the cold frozen drink dessert is mixed with cornelian cherries, pomegranate, lemon, rose hips, licorice, and a variety of spices. The fruits and spices, which are grown in the gardens of the Ottoman Palace under the control of doctors and pharmacist, are the source of the dessert’s effective healing power

Sherbets are actually being served after circumcision rites and being recommended to mothers, who have just given childbirth, to help them produce more milk needed in breastfeeding their babies. They are also served in weddings  in an upscale way with elegant glasses and trays. But they are also sold on the streets by street vendors in flasks announcing their presence with bells.

Ottoman Sherbet Seller
Ottoman Sherbet Seller in 1900s


The Arabic sharāb entered in European languages in the late medieval period as sciroppo in Italian, then became sorbetto and was adopted as sorbet in French. Sherbet is commonly used today in English speaking world. Sherbet was a drink up to the 17th century referring to what the Turks drink – the şerbet. August Escoffier describes sorbet as “very light and barely-congealed ices, served after the Entrées to clear the palate and to help to aid digestion.”

When Europeans figured out how to freeze ice, they began adding fruit juices and flavorings to a frozen simple syrup base.  Sherbet in 18th century was both frozen ices and a kind of an ice cream.

What sorbet ended up being is a frozen water ice consisting of a basic sugar syrup blended with water, fruit juice, herbs and often wine or spirits. Sorbet does not contain dairy and does not require an ice cream maker although it is commonly churned.

Try our Raspberry Sorbet recipe here


Granita in Italian  is a mixture of sugar syrup and a flavored liquid, usually with a fruit flavor of pistachio, lemon, almond or coffee, with a lower ratio of sugar to liquid that causes it to freeze into solid crystals after the freezing mass is broken up with a fork. Sorbetto is the same but is usually churned  and frozen to a smoother, more compact texture. They both belong to the Italian Ice category of frozen desserts that were introduced in the USA by Italian immigrants. These desserts are flavored at production.

Slush is a water ice, frozen to a softer texture that is served with a straw with a shape of a spoon to begin, then sipped when melted. It has a softer, slushier consistency.

Shave Ice and Snow Cones

Frozen Dessert: shave ice
Rainbow shaved ice on white background

Shave Ice is a Hawaiian dessert described as shaved ice drizzled with tropical fruit-flavored, colorful syrups, artificially or naturally flavored and served in a paper cone.

Although the history of shave ice is not confirmed, it is believed that it started in Mexico where hand-shave machines were found. Today, shaved ices need artificial refrigeration, a shaving or crushing machine, sugar, flavors and colors. It is believed that shave ice first seen in Japan that then moved to Hawaii with Japanese immigrants who came to work in the sugar and pineapple farms in the 1800s. They brought their tradition of kakigori -shaved ice – which then traveled from the Americas to Asia.

snow cone is a variation of finely shaved ice or ground-up ice dessert commonly served in paper cones or cups and believed to be an American invention. Snow cones are topped with flavored sugar syrup. When they are served in a cup are called snow balls. A sno-ball is a confection originated in Louisiana that is made with finely shaved ice and flavored with cane sugar syrup. It is fine and fluffy and served seasonally from March to October in sno-ball stands.


Raspados in Tucson by Thei Zervaki
Colorful Raspados in Tucson – credit: Thei Zervaki

It’s a Mexican-style shaved-ice drink, named from the Spanish raspar, which means “to scrape.” It can be topped with fruit, flavoring, syrup, and various condiments. It can be sweet, savory, spicy, or all three. Most of the syrups are made with fruit and water but also with preserved fruits like canned mangoes. These delicious frozen and refreshing desserts that melt into slushy beverages are served with both a spoon and a straw. If you want to find out more about raspados, read my article here.

Halo Halo

Halo Halo in Manila
A Halo Halo served in Manila -credit: Thei Zervaki

The Filipino Halo Halo is a mixture of flavors and textures combining sweetened beans, coconut jelly, jackfruit, bananas, palm fruit, mixed with tapioca pearls, pieces of jello soaked in condensed milk with the shaved iced on top. Occasionally you may find pieces of flan or even ice cream. This frozen dessert looks alike to a tropical salad is one of the favorite snacks in the Philippines. Pre-war Japanese brought their mongo-ya — mung beans served over crushed ice with milk and sugar which later became Halo Halo.

Other variations may be found in Taiwan where the shaved ice is topped with honey and condensed milk with a side of chewy boba stuffed with red beans. In Japan, it may include sweetened Azuki beans at the bottom of the cup topped with condensed milk or fermented goat milk.


There is a great variety of frozen desserts available from your local grocery store to the local shave ice parlor, they are all here to cool you off in hot and humid days!

What is the texture of the frozen desserts?

Frozen DessertTextureServing
Sherbetcreamy and richspoon
Granitacoarse, crystallinespoon
Slushsoft, slushy straw
Shave Iceshave, snow-likestraw
Snow Cone/Snowballcrunchy, granular, coarsestraw and spoon
Sno-ballfine, fluffystraw and spoon
Raspadoshaved, meltingstraw and spoon
Halo Halomixture of texturesstraw and spoon
You have it all here!

Is sorbet vegan?

Sorbet does not contain dairy so it can be vegan if the sweetener used is vegan too. The same applies for a number of frozen desserts like shave ice, snow cones, sno-balls, granita and slushy. Halo Halo contains milk and raspados may or may not be vegan depending on the ingredients. Always check with the store manager.