Since I got my ice cream maker with Christmas money last year, I have been searching the web and the shelves of my local library to find the best ice cream recipes. The problem I have come across, particularly online is that what some people call sherbet another person calls it gelato. And what one person calls ice cream, another calls sherbet. So what is what? Below are my definitions for each. This is the system I will use when filing recipes in my recipe binder.
Ice Cream: Made with heavy cream and half-and-half or whole milk. I prefer to make my ice cream by starting with a custard that includes the dairy along with eggs and sugar and that is cooked to 175 degrees. This is often called a French style ice cream.
Gelato: Made with heavy cream and milk (higher percentage of milk than cream). It is lower in fat than ice cream. It does not include eggs. It is best eaten right out of the ice cream maker. It has a richer flavor than ice cream. Although you can make a gelato recipe using an ice cream maker, I do not think it is the true thing as gelato contains less air so it needs to churn at a different speed. My ice cream maker does not have that function. Therefore my homemade gelato is really probably more like Philadelphia style ice cream than true gelato.
Sorbet: A sorbet is made up of fruit (or another flavoring like chocolate), sugar, and water. There is no dairy products, thus it is fat free and good for those who have problems digesting lactose. Your sorbet will be only as good as the fruit in it, so summer fresh fruits are the best.
Sherbet: Sherbet is very similar to sorbet with the exception that milk is added. It still lower in fat than ice cream and has a flavor similar to sorbet except with the undertone of milk to give you a creamier product.
So when you break it down the only difference in what your frozen treat is called comes down to the fat content and how much air it contains.