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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sorbets for Summer

Summer is here for most of us. Well, not up here in Rochester. Friday I wandered through the tents at the Rochester International Jazz Festival in a cold, rain-misted wind with temperatures in the 40s. The ice cream truck closed down early as everybody searched for a vendor, any vendor, who sold hot drinks. Hot jazz warms the spirit but my umbrella turned inside-out and threatened to become a satellite.

But I hear that other parts of the nation have their air conditioning up and running. It'll happen up here as well. Summer is scheduled for a Thursday this year. Try not to miss it.

What to do when it's 95° and you're dripping and want something cold and smooth to wash the dryness out of your throat? Skip over that ice cream. If you're lactose intolerant or milk allergic there are better treats, and they're becoming a lot easier to find.

The two main types of non-dairy confections are sorbets and granites. Here's a handy definition from The Tennessean:

Sorbet: Fresh, ripe fruit puree or fruit juice and sugar then churned to incorporate air to make it smooth. It has no eggs or dairy products to camouflage the taste of fruits at their peak of ripeness. They can be made with liquors, wine and herbs, too. The less sweet ones are sometimes offered as a palate cleanser between courses at a fancy dinner.

Granite: Frozen mixture of fruit juice or other liquid such as coffee or wine and sugar, then frozen in a shallow tray. The proportion is usually four parts liquid to one part sugar. It's stirred frequently with a fork to break up the crystals and has an icy, coarse texture. Called granite in France and granita in Italy.


That's pronounced gra-NEE-ta, BTW, not like the rock.

The June issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, also was thinking summer and ran an article on frozen scoops. Saturated fat is their biggest bugaboo, followed by sugar content, so it's not surprising that sorbets grabbed a bunch of "Best Bites" and honorable mentions. Best Bites have no more than 1 gram of "bad fat" (saturated fat plus trans fats) in a half-cup serving, no more than 170 calories, no acesulfane potassium, and also have fruit, fruit puree, or fruit juice (other than grape, apple, or pear) as the first or second ingredients. Honorable mention products are the same but may have up to 2 grams of "bad fat." Tough grading.

They liked Edy's Whole Fruit brand No Sugar Added sorbets, sweetened with Splenda, but also gave a Best Bite to their regularly sweetened sorbets, except for Coconut and Boysenberry. It's hard to take the fat out of coconut, so all the coconut sorbets have black marks against them.

Haagen-Dazs has at least half a dozen sorbets with all them being Best Bites, except for chocolate, tropical, and zesty lemon, which are honorable mention.

Ben and Jerry have a tasty line of sorbets that should be widely available in most supermarkets. Their current flavors are Strawberry Kiwi Swirl, Berried Treasure, and Jamaican Me Crazy, with its swirls of pineapple and passionfruit. They all get honorable mentions.

Ciao Bella has a huge line of sorbettos, many of which are certified kosher. All are Best Bites except for chocolate, which rates as honorable mention, and the dread coconut.

Lots of other brands of sorbets, granites, and ices (sometimes called Italian ices) are on the market, of course. You should find other brands that weren't part of the ratings in local stores and natural foods markets everywhere. Keep the Best Bites qualities in mind when you buy. Fruit, not sugar, should be high on the list. You want the real fruit flavor to shine through.

I'm finding that many better restaurants now offer home-made sorbets in unusual and intense flavors for those of us who literally wouldn't live through a Death by Chocolate mound of fat. The best of these burst into fruity sense-bombs with the smallest spoonful.

You can also make your own sorbets. Check out the Non-Dairy Frozen Desserts Cookbooks page in the Product Clearinghouse on my website for a list of cookbooks that cover sorbets, granites, and ices.

When you experiment with the recipes, keep in mind that you can add other flavors than just fruit. Sorbet on the side by Kristi L. Gustafson in the Albany Times Union, tells us that herbs are the latest hot ingredient in cool summer dishes.

Lavender, rosemary, tarragon, basil and lemon verbena are just a few oft-found sorbet additives.

"Lemon verbena is amazing. It has a scent and flavor that's like an acidless lemon," says Michel Nischan, known as the Healthy Chef. "It causes the flavor to fill your entire mouth."



Mint goes better with fruit sorbets than just about any other herb, say chefs. It's expected, because mint often accompanies fruit -- or at least dessert. But these sorbets aren't always after-meal treats.

Instead they're used as intermezzos or even side dishes.

"Rosemary is sharp enough (that) it's more interesting as a meat accompaniment or a palate-cleanser," according to Lou Pappas, author of "Sorbets and Ice Creams: and Other Frozen Confections." She suggests a lemon-rosemary sorbet with lamb. Diners treat it as a side dish, as they would a potato or vegetable.



A fruit base is typical (even tomatoes work). Add a sugar-based syrup, stick it in an ice cream maker, and you'll have a perfect-consistency sorbet. Different herbs can be incorporated differently, says [Paul Krebs, professor of culinary arts at Schenectady County Community College].

"Herbs can be chopped finely and mixed in, but if you don't want to have the chopped herb in your sorbet, you can also strain it," says Krebs. You can also chop the herbs, steep them in the sugar-and-water mixture and strain it out.


Check the article online for recipes on unusual flavors Spring Rhubarb-Tarragon Sorbet, Pineapple-Sage Sorbet, and Citrus-Basil Sorbet.

No dill, though. Dill doesn't work. Nor does combining lavender, maple and chocolate. Remember, just because you can think it up doesn't mean you can choke it down.

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