Singing the Praises of Sorbets

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by Ian Carandang

For those who don’t know, when I’m not living the fabulous and glamorous life of a column writer, my day job is owning and running an ice cream shop where I make frozen desserts for people to enjoy. One of the things we make is sorbet, and as the Philippine summer is in full swing, making us all feel the infernal heat, I wanted to talk about this still-underappreciated frozen treat.

Sorbet is a combination of fruit, water, and sugar, churned during freezing to make a smooth, scoopable fruit ice that serves as a dessert or a palate cleanser. The sugar functions both for flavor and texture, preventing ice crystals. Don’t add enough, and the texture won’t be smooth. Add too much, and it doesn’t freeze completely. An authentic sorbet has no dairy (sherbet/sherbert has a small amount of dairy to give it a creamier finish and is a different product). Sorbets can be infused with flavors like green tea or cocoa, but primarily it is made with fruit.

A lot of people view sorbet as an icy, crumbly dessert inferior to the sublime creaminess of ice cream, but that’s because they have yet to have one that’s properly made. A good sorbet, done well, is a delight: smooth and luxurious on the palate, with a bright and intense flavor that is refreshing to the palate. Being dairy-free and vegan, it is a lighter and healthier alternative to ice cream.

In my 16 years of doing this, one of my self-appointed goals is to try and make sorbets “happen” and make the mainstream appreciate them as much as I do, but so far, it remains a goal beyond my reach. Part of it may be because my sorbet recipes weren’t as good as I envisioned them or simply because people prefer ice cream, which I understand.

This year I decided to invest in a slow juicer (which slowly crushes fruit and squeezes out the juice instead of quickly pulverizing it via a regular juicer), and that’s when I turned the corner and started learning the nuances and differences between each fruit. I’ve learned that some fruits are best using the entire thing (minus the seeds), and some fruits are better juiced, removing the pulp and extracting the pure flavor. The trick is assessing which technique is ideal for the fruit in question.

Using fresh fruit as an ingredient carries considerations that ingredients like, say, semi-sweet chocolate chips (which will be consistent every time) don’t have. Fruit is organic, alive, temperamental, and most importantly, temporary. You have a limited time to work with them every season, and then when the season is done, so are you. But that’s also what I love about working with fruit sorbets – the seasonal impermanence gives an immediacy to the flavors corporations try to artificially induce with products like the McRib and Twister fries. It also brings a visual element to the freezer display, taking on vivid colors of red, yellow, orange, purple, and magenta.

This summer, we hit our stride as we debuted sorbets made from orange, calamansi, dalandan, buko, pineapple, guyabano, caimito, and apple. All these flavors are delicious, but my crowning achievement for the year so far, not just in sorbets but in all the flavors, is our lanzones sorbet.

Made with fresh duco lanzones at the peak of ripeness, it’s extremely labor intensive as the seeds need to be removed from the fruit sacs by hand and expensive at P300 a kilo. Considering ingredient cost and labor, it has one of the slimmest profit margins among our products, but the flavor is truly exquisite: luscious, delicate, and floral. It can only be done as sorbet because mixing it with cream and egg yolks would only mute the flavor and waste the fruit.

Trying to make sorbets cross over to the mainstream has always been an uphill battle, so this year, I tried something new where when I debuted a new fruit sorbet, I also released an ice cream version of the same fruit and let the public decide. Unsurprisingly, the ice cream version usually sells through first, but with dalandan, I noticed that for the first time, the sorbet version sold out first before the ice cream version.

Could it be? That we’ve finally turned a corner on sorbets?

Time will tell. In the meantime, I shall continue to juice, churn and scoop.

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