A “Dirty” Delight: The History of Pinoy Sorbetes

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by Michelle Ylaya

Ice cream is enjoyed all around the world with practically every region having its own version of the frozen creamy dessert.

Sorbetes is the Philippine’s very own and has made its mark in our culture and history. Sorbetes was served during the banquet of the 1898 declaration of Independence when Emilio Aguinaldo became the first president of the Philippines.

The history of sorbetes or what is commonly known as “dirty ice cream” starts with the importation of ice to the Philippines.  Yes ice, 250 tons of it.

In April 1847, Russel & Sturgis shipped 250 tons of ice on the frigate Hizaine from the United Stated to the Philippines tax-free.  Later Russell & Sturgis became the first ice plant in the country until it went bankrupt in 1881.


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The garapiñera or ice cream freezer in Spanish was really just a primitive bucket with a manual handle that could churn the ice cream mixture. It was used to make the first sorbetes in the country.

During the colonial times, the process of making sorbetes was a family activity as they took turns in turning the handle until the mixture had the right consistency of ice cream.  

The ice cream  mixture inside the garapiñera  consisted of carabao milk, crushed ice, eggs and ube or whatever flavor was desired such as mantecado and queso.  Salt was sprinkled on the mixture to keep it from melting.   

Sorbetes is still made in the Philippines today thanks to the sorbeteros who peddle the ice cream in the streets. The sorbetero’s carts are distinctly decorated like a Philippine jeepney, while three ice cream flavors are stored inside three metal canisters. Blocks of ice keep the sorbetes frozen.

Popular flavors of the dirty ice cream include, avocado, melon, strawberry, cookies and cream , chocolate and cheese.  Now coconut milk is also used to give the sorbetes its creaminess. Sorbetes is scooped and served in sugar cones or in between bread buns.


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our own version of ice cream sandwich


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a sorbetes flower, because sorbeteros like it fancy

Lets hope that the coming generations of Filipinos can still enjoy sorbetes in the future.  




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