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Taste kitchen

Squeeze in some lemon sorbet

By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / September 9, 2009

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Lemon sorbet is a refreshing dessert any time of year. At the end of summer, when local fruits are in the markets, pair them with a cool scoop of lemony ice and add a crisp cookie.

We sat down to taste six brands of lemon sorbet and among 16 tasters there was no clear favorite. Ciao Bella Lemon Sorbetto, with four votes, edged out three others with three votes each. “Most intense lemon flavor and best palate cleanser,’’ was heard repeatedly. But neither was there a clear loser; 365 Meyer Lemon Sorbet (Whole Foods Market’s house brand) was turned away by four tasters with “bitter’’ being the most common remark.

Sorbet is generally defined as containing water, fruit juice or pulp, and sugar. That’s what each brand contains, plus stabilizers and preservatives. Most are labeled “naturally fat-free.’’ Sorbet is often confused with sherbet, its creamier cousin, which can contain dairy and sometimes egg whites. That said, ingredients vary. Sorbet recipes are also made with dairy products such as cream and half-and-half. Gus Rancatore, owner of Toscanini’s and maker of icy confections, says, “I’m a traditionalist. Sherbet has milk or egg whites.’’ Many chefs ask Rancatore to make sorbets using dairy products because, he says, chefs don’t live in a rigid world of definitions.

None of our brands contain dairy or eggs. Tasting a particularly creamy sorbet, like Stop & Shop’s Lemon Sorbetto, one of our crew wrote “this is not sorbet!’’ Well apparently it is. The texture comes from stabilizers such as carrageenan, pectin, guar gum, and xanthan gum. This would explain the “gelatinous’’ and “gummy’’ comments leveled at several brands, which by the way, were easier to scoop. But “creamy’’ can also come from whipping, which is why many recipes for homemade sorbet encourage immediate consumption.

As for color, all of the brands sampled are white, with one exception. Sharon’s is lemon yellow - really turmeric yellow. The color put some tasters off: “How artificial looking! It must be food coloring,’’ one said. Others found the color to be “luscious’’ and an eye-appealing “baby-chick yellow.’’

Most sorbets are flavored with lemon juice concentrate, which could include flavorings and sugar. Only Ciao Bella has plain lemon juice and rind among its ingredient list.

Ciao Bella Lemon (Limone)

$4.99 for 1 pint

This brand was lauded for its lemony taste and grainy texture. Lemon juice is the second ingredient, the highest proportion among the competitors. “This has the most intense lemon flavor and would be the best palate cleanser.’’ “Nice icy consistency, tastes like it might have some peel in it.’’ “Delicious, looks like a sorbet. Consistency is nice and fresh.’’ Another: “Yum-o. Nice fruity flavor with a crisp texture.’’ “Acid not creamy too sherbet-y.’’ “Tangy and sweet.’’ “Icy, tastes artificial.’’ Others: “Tastes a little like Mr. Clean smells - pine-scented kitchen cleaner. But the texture is nice.’’ “Light on flavor and substance.’’

Haägen-Dazs Fat-Free Sorbet Zesty Lemon

$3.99 for 1 pint

“Good texture and plenty of flavor but also has a medicine-y aftertaste that is off-putting.’’ “A bit of a bitter after-taste. Too creamy. Something other than lemon is in back.’’ “OK for bitter lemon sorbet. It is too sweet and too bitter. Lacks the tart clean taste of fresh lemon and peel.’’ “Nice white smooth looking. No scent. Very smooth quite metallic, false lemon flavor.’’ “Dreadful glop of bitterness.’’ “A nice smooth blend of lemon and sweet.’’ “Good creamy.’’ “Did they add a lot of lemon flavor? Too sweet.’’ “No taste of lemon really.’’ And from one who chose it as a favorite: “Full rich ice creamy, tangy; too lemony chemical aftertaste. But still good.’’ What kind of endorsement is that?

Sharon’s All Natural Fat Free Lemon Sorbet

$2.69 for 1 pint

(This brand got three favorite votes and three least favorite.) “Tastes like mom’s lemon meringue pie!’’ “Bold lemon flavor and luscious yellow color. Love the crunch.’’ “Tart, icy, lemony . . . delicious.’’ Not everyone gushed over the color. “Why so yellow? More crunchy than smooth. My tooth hurts. First sweet, then turns sour.’’ More texture comments: “Not very creamy, but subtly lemony taste. Better once it thawed a bit. Artificial yellow color.’’ “Seems like real lemon, maybe a bit bitter in the aftertaste.’’ “Looks grainy, no smell at all.’’ “Smooth icy.’’ “Too yellow, too sweet.’’ “Consistency is not very smooth. More like flavored ice.’’

Stop & Shop Simply Enjoy Lemon Sorbetto

$4.49 for 1 liter (half gallon)

(Got three favorite votes and three least favorites.) Easiest of all to scoop. “This is not sorbet. Gelatinous texture after-feel on tongue. Overly sweet. Too much lemon oil, not enough fresh lemon.’’ “White like snowflakes. Smooth tangy refreshing, opens up the taste buds.’’ “Bitter lemon tastes artificial. Too creamy for sorbet.’’ “Very sweet, not real lemony.’’ (Lemon appears as the fifth ingredient; most other brands list it third or fourth.) “Creamy, a little bitterness in mouth.’’ “Love the smell, texture, and taste of this sorbet. It has the right amount of sweetness.’’ “Smooth, sort of creamy, light lemon flavor.’’ “White color, creamy smooth consistency, mild initial flavor, tart aftertaste.’’ “Lemony scent with a bit of extract smell. Lovely texture. Very smooth no granules. False lemon flavor. All extract, no real lemon bitter edge.’’

Whole Foods Market 365 Meyer Lemon Sorbet

$3.39 for 1 pint

“Very smooth, nice blend of sweet and tart.’’ “Remote flavor of lemon like it was near a lemon at some point. Texture is not unpleasant, just not good.’’ “Least sweet and has an aftertaste which is bitter. Texture is smooth and creamy.’’ “Bitter and too much stabilizer.’’ “White, very creamy, astringent.’’ “Gummy - OK acceptable.’’ “Creamy and a little bitter.’’ “This is too thick and acidic. Tart without lemony flavor.’’ “Rich, too lemony, too intense, smooth.’’ “Smooth white, looks like there might be flecks of rind. Lemon scent is extract-y. Flavor is bitter, too much extract but right amount of sugar. Too bad about the bitterness - it has that metallic bitter edge but nice smooth texture.’’ “Consistency excellent.’’

Whole Fruit Sorbet Lemon

$2.69 for 1 pint

Some commented: “No artificial color’’ and “nice off-white looks, smooth, scent is soft lemon.’’ Others: “Feels chemical and smooth.’’ “Not bad for a lemony sherbet. Lemon-ish and not too sweet. More creamy than I like a sorbet to be.’’ “Dense full flavored. Tangy and white. More ice cream than sorbet.’’ “Color OK. Excellent lemon flavor. Not quite as icy as it could be, but really good.’’ “Very creamy with a balanced flavor and pleasant aroma. Lacking intensity.’’ “This has a great tang. Smooth texture with a lemony fragrance you expect in a lemon sorbet.’’ “Way too tart. Doesn’t have sweetish aftertaste.’’ “More authentic fresh lemon flavor. Not as strong as others.’’ “White, smooth, tart, with very little sweet.’’