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Water ice v. Italian ice

My roommates were confounded when I invited them to share some water ice with me recently. "Water....ICE?!?" was, I think, the majority response. When we sorted through some regional dialect issues (I'm from PA, they're North Carolinians), and realized they would call it Italian ice, they threw in a couple more jabs about the nonsensicality of the Philly moniker and then politely declined the ice itself.

Slightly hurt, but more curious, I have been pondering this in a lazy fashion for a few months now - okay, I said "recently" above, but come on, it's January and hardly the season for eating frozen water with a spoon. Anyway, here is my question: Is there actually a difference between water ice and Italian ice? Is it strictly a question of semantics and labeling, or does some definable formula mean that an experienced ice-eater could tell the difference between one and the other blindfolded?

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  1. is this a flavoured sorbet? Or just plain ice?

    1 Reply
    1. re: smartie

      I just googled it and I get it now.

      When we were kids in England water ice was what we called sorbet today. I have never heard the term Italian ice. So we would get strawberry or raspberry water ice. I think it's just terminology.

    2. Water ice and Italian ice (or lemon ice) = regionally different names for same product. Here is a thread that hashes it out a little further:
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/611190

      Similar to being able to discern Coke vs. Pepsi vs. RC Cola, an experienced ice-eater can probably tell her favorite ice from one made in a different location, but ice is ice is ice...and is nice. :) Does this help?

      Oh, and for the record, I never eat lemon ice with a spoon. Always a direct hit to the tongue in one of those little white paper cups, same as you'd eat an ice cream cone, except toward the end, you squeeze the cup to make sure you get every last drop...so refreshing on a hot summer night. Damn, always on rewind back to songs of my childhood...
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Snj8m3...

      1 Reply
      1. re: kattyeyes

        Yes, "no utensils" is the way to go. Just squeeze the little white cup. Another favorite, with friends, back in the day, was eating banana cream pie. No hands, no utensils.
        "Purple haze is in my brain..."

      2. Ha ha - I am from S. Jersey and even going to college in N. Jersey, no one there knew what "water ice" was. One friend even asked me if there was any other kind of ice besides water ice!? In general yes, water ice and Italian ice are different terms for the same thing. Sorbet is a different thing entirely.

        As for eating with a spoon or not, it depends on the type of water ice. If it's that kind that is tightly-packed in the container (condensed almost, like Luigi's) then you really need a utensil to eat it. Otherwise optional.

        8 Replies
        1. re: cookie44

          <<Sorbet is a different thing entirely.>> THANK YOU! :) ITA!

          And, I stand corrected...sometimes when we get a pint packed to take out, yes, you're right...fond memories of eating ice that way in the park with a friend...and definitely some sort of utensil. ;) Here's to thoughts of sunnier days...it's snowing as I type this!

          1. re: kattyeyes

            "Sorbet is a different thing entirely"
            What's different about it?

            I say water ice, Italian ice and sorbet are all the same.
            Can all have similar ingredients, similar texture and all are made with water.

            1. re: monku

              We had this same discussion back in April, monku, remember? Check our old notes.

              Sorbets I have eaten are more along the lines of frozen fruit purees vs. fruit juice. Maybe the ones you've eaten really do taste like Italian ice/water ice/lemon ice...but I can't say the same for sorbets I've had. So I'll even go out on a limb and say perhaps the difference between "ice" and "sorbet" is my personal hangup since I've seen descriptions that would lead the reader to believe they're the same thing. But they're not the same thing *to me*--nor is granita (which I have made at home exactly once because it's a PITA). The ingredients may be the same, but the end result is quite different.

              1. re: kattyeyes

                Agree, texture wise granita Is not the same, but same ingredients.
                Pick up some lemon sorbet and you"ll find no difference in texture between Italian ice or water ice or taste for that matter in some I've had.

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  Right.
                  You tried to throw me a curve ball with a sorbet recipe that had egg in it.

                2. re: monku

                  Most sorbets contain fruit, and therefore have different ingredients and a different texture from the Italian ices I've had, which are all made from fruit-flavored syrup. I don't see how a sorbet made with only juice, sugar, and water would be any different than an Italian ice, but that doesn't make the terms interchangeable. Some rectangles are squares, but the words aren't synonymous.

              2. I grew up in Philadelphia, and water ice is very popular there. It's soft, frozen ice with very, very fine grain.
                Not sorbet whatsoever.

                24 Replies
                1. re: monavano

                  so what is sorbet then. I guess I would use the terms water ice or sorbet for ice cream made without any dairy.

                  1. re: smartie

                    It's a texture thing. I think sorbet is a bit denser and water ice melts pretty quickly-one of its best qualities!

                    1. re: monavano

                      sounds to me like a posh word for the same thing. I mean look at ice cream, is Publix brand better or worse than a homemade with fresh cream and fruit? Both called ice cream yes?

                      1. re: smartie

                        I don't think it's a matter of branding, as monavano said the texture/density is different.

                    2. re: smartie

                      From Princton.edu:
                      "(n) water ice, sorbet (an ice containing no milk but having a mushy consistency; usually made from fruit juice)"

                      From Wikipedia:
                      "Sorbet (pronounced /sɔrˈbeɪ/ sor-bay) is a frozen dessert made from sweetened water flavored with iced fruit (typically juice or puree), chocolate, wine, and/or liqueur."

                      1. re: Gio

                        And now, a year and a half later, I'll say again...that growing up North of Boston we called it SLUSH. And, it was always lemon. Sorbet was something else entirely.

                        1. re: Gio

                          Lemon is the best and most refreshing flavor, anyway (so sez me)--no matter whatchacallit! Just do NOT call it sorbet. ;)

                          It's funny you say that about slush, by the way. One of the original owners of the ice place here in my hometown went by the nickname "Joe Slush!" RIP, Mr. Vecchitto.

                      2. re: smartie

                        As noted above, sorbet usually contains fruit. Italian ice doesn't.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Food Network they featured some famous Italian ice guy and he was showing how he was making his Italian ices with real fruit juices like lemons.

                          1. re: monku

                            And to further cloud the discussion, where I come from those concoctions are called Slush. And in the beginning they were made with only lemons. Now there are many flavors, all fruit though.

                            1. re: monku

                              No. Let's try this one more time. Sorbets usually - not always - contain fruit as a major ingredient. Not just fruit juice, fruit.

                              A frozen mixture of lemon juice, water, and sugar is both sorbet and Italian ice. It does not contain any fruit, but does contain fruit juice. A frozen mixture of pureed strawberries, water, and sugar is a sorbet, but not an Italian ice. It contains fruit.

                              If the "famous Italian guy" on FN was using whole lemons to make his frozen treats, then they wouldn't be Italian ices. But per your post he wasn't; he was using lemon juice.

                              Fruit juice ≠ fruit. I don't know how to make it any clearer.

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                I've had Italian Ices, Italian Water Ices, Lemon Sorbets and Lemon Sherbert....all containing lemon zest..

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  And some Italian ices even contain little chunks of fruit. But compared to the other stuff in the recipe, it's always a small amount.

                                  Maybe we could come up with an ISO standard - churned frozen treats with <5% solids by weight may be sold as "Italian ice"; 5-10% are "Italian ice product"; 10-20%, "imitation Italian ice"; over 20%, "sorbet."

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    Until there's a standard you can't say sorbet isn't the same. So you say some Italian ice contains fruit...then why don't they call it sorbet? Because sorbet and Italian ice (water ice) are the same thing.
                                    The Lemon Ice King of Corona has been making it with fruit for 60 years. I maybe heard the term sorbet 30 years ago, does that mean it didn't exist before? Maybe you should tell the Lemon Ice King of Corona he doesn't know what he's talking about either.
                                    They're all the same regardless of the amount of ingredients.

                                    1. re: monku

                                      Italian ice and sorbet are not the same thing. Everybody here except you seems to understand the difference, but you've made up your mind that there isn't a difference and have made it abundantly clear that you would rather be confident (albeit incorrect) than well-informed. That's certainly your prerogative, but it makes this discussion an exercise in futility. I'm out.

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          Luigi's is a nice treat when it's hot out and you are trying to cool off....but it's a poor excuse for Italian Ice.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            No, it's not the same, but it can hit the spot in a pinch.

                                            1. re: monavano

                                              Agreed.....I have some still in my freezer....it goes on sale for the unbelievable price of .99 for 6-8 cups at my local Shop Rite Store on occasion. I also have those cheapo Budget two stick ice pops as well.....

                                        2. re: alanbarnes

                                          My point is there is no difference in the ingredients, you're the one flip flopping on what makes sorbet and what doesn't(lemon ice& lemon sorbet). I'm trying to show from the beginning that water ice, Italian Ice and sorbet can be made with the same regardless whether they use fruit juice or fruit. If they use the same ingredients how are they not the same except in name.

                                  2. re: alanbarnes

                                    Thinking back on the episode he was grinding up whole lemons skin and pulp and even selling the ground up skin and pulp to make more Italian ice.
                                    How is that different than sorbet?

                                    1. re: monku

                                      I have been looking for the name of that famous ice guy featured on foodtv. I was interested in the equipment he used to squeeze the whole lemons. If you can help I would greatly appreciate.

                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                      Where do coffee and chocolate sorbet fit in?

                                  3. re: alanbarnes

                                    Sounds like this guy is making sorbet according to your definition.

                                    http://www.thelemonicekingofcorona.com/

                              2. Wow, I'm so impressed at all the replies already! Thanks all. This confirms my suspicion that we're splitting hairs, in this house at least.

                                Kattyeyes - thanks for the links! Yes, the last syrupy bit from the bottom of the cup is the best :)

                                And yes, I didn't even think about sorbet when writing this post. Sorbet seems a little more elegant and maybe more complexly flavored - you can get away with selling basil-lime sorbet, but try that with water ice and see where it gets you.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: caerphilly

                                  My experience is Italian Water Ice from Philly is more of a slush served in a cup with a spoon. It's scooped with a ladle into a container made of plastic or styrofoam, either in the form of a beverage cup or container for foods(like soup).

                                  New York Style Italian Ices are firm and scrapped and scooped into a paper water cup, the same flat bottom paper cup used for the typical office water cooler. Depending on a large or small size, there would be the base below the rim of the paper cup and a scoop above the rim.....spoon optional.

                                  I've seen Rainbow flavored Italian Ices (Lemon,Cherry Red and Blue Raspberry).....but never Rainbow Flavored Italian Water Ices

                                2. Wow, lots of posts since i was last reading!

                                  Well, I would still maintain that water ice/Italian ice, while synonomous, are distinct from sorbet and not merely posh/less posh terms for the same thing or synonyms themselves. Can I quote a reference for that or a definitive definition? No, but I stand by it regardless.

                                  Also I would say the distinction, in my opinion, does lie in the fruit-flavored ingredients. There are many kinds of water ice/Italian ice, including the "loose" kind in a cup or cone or the denser kind you scrape with a spoon (sometimes a little wooden paddle like you get with those dixie cups of ice cream). Also while some water ice/Italian ice is made with fruit-flavored syrups or fruit juice, some is also made with real fruit (Rita's immediately comes to mind in this category).

                                  Best I can think, the difference mainly lies in the texture/mouthfeel. Sorbet has a texture and mouthfeel much more aking to ice cream. Yes, I know there is typically no dairy in sorbet but still they share more in common in this respect than either would with water ice/Italian ice. Sorbet, particuarly if it is good, has a creamy quailty to it without the dairy; may the ice cyrstal are finer or more homogeneous. Water ice/Italian ice melts more quickly, has more distinctly noticeable ice shards and crystals. I do not know anyone in my family who would confuse one for the other - perhaps a regional thing.

                                  I would also add, at the risk of causing additional commotion/confusion, that water ice/Italian ice is also not the same as shave ice. but it would have more in common with shave ice than with sorbet.

                                  just this Philly native's 2 cents...

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: cookie44

                                    I agree that water ice is very different from shaved ice or snow cones. Both of which I could never appreciate having been spoiled by water ice growing up.

                                      1. re: monavano

                                        Not the same process(syrup is poured over shaved ice), but if yo've had shave ice from Matsumoto's in Hawaii it's very similar to that slushy water ice some are referring to and they make their syrups from real fruit, sugar and water.

                                    1. Here is a recent article from a Philadelphia newspaper about water ice. In fact, on a recent visit to Philly, President Obama stopped by a place (John's, my favorite by the way) and had some lemon water ice and pronounced it. "Outstanding!"

                                      http://www.philly.com/philly/food/201...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Philly Ray

                                        Nice! I like the idea of spiking, it, too. I'm going to blank out the part about 16 spoonfuls of sugar, tho'...ignorance being bliss and all. I can't imagine all ice is really THAT sweet--maybe it's just a Rita's thing. Yes, that's what I'm going to believe. Stay cool, fellow ice lovers!