Italian ice
Lime-flavoured Italian ice
Place of originItaly
Main ingredientsWater, fruit (concentrate, juice, or purée)

Italian ice is a semi-frozen sweetened treat composed of finely granulated ice and fruit concentrates, juices, or purées, or other natural or artificial food flavorings.[1][2] Italian ice is derived from Italian granita and is in many ways similar to sorbet and snow cones, but differs from American-style sherbet in that it does not contain dairy or egg ingredients.[1] The ingredients in Italian ice are mixed, then whipped during the freezing process similar to the process for making ice cream. As a group, Italian ice comes in a variety of consistencies from crunchy, to smooth, to slushy.[3] In Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley (or the Philadelphia metropolitan area), including South Jersey and northern Delaware, Italian ice is known as water ice.

Italian ice was introduced to the United States by poor Italian immigrants and is derived from the Sicilian granita, a similar and related Italian dessert, with Italian immigrants often selling this treat in the streets of cities such as New York City and Philadelphia and thus popularizing the treat in these cities.[4] Traditionally lemon flavored, popular modern choices include cherry, strawberry, and other fruits and confections.[5]


The Italian word sorbetto and English sherbet come from fruit syrups sweetened with honey or palm sugar that the Arabs used to drink diluted with water.[6]

In Italy, Italian ice or granita seems to have appeared at the same time as ice cream in the second half of the 17th century. Both products use the same technology. Italian ice can be used as a stand-alone refreshment, dessert, or as a palate restorer in a multi-course meal.[7]

Italian ice or granita was introduced to the United States with the arrival of poor Italian immigrants from Southern Italy. These immigrants and their descendants began selling granita in Italian neighborhoods and in the streets of American cities, resulting in the related but slightly different Italian-American dessert now known as “Italian ice” (or “water ice” in the Philadelphia area).

Water ice

An orange Italian ice (sold as water ice)

Finely granulated flavored ice of Italian immigrant origin is instead commonly referred to and sold as water ice by residents and natives of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia metropolitan area, including South Jersey.[8] Water ice is almost identical to Italian ice, as it is similarly derived from granita brought to the Philadelphia area by Italian immigrants in 20th century.

Though largely synonymous with Italian ice, water ice has also been described as a specific type of Italian ice originating in Philadelphia, or a "variation on the more broadly-accepted Italian ice."[9]

Water ice is generally sold in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia metropolitan area in the late spring and summer months, being one of the most popular iconic frozen desserts sold in the city by virtue of commercial chains such as Rita's Water Ice.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b U.S. Food and Drug Administration, CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Archived 2020-02-04 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 9 June 2011.
  2. ^ "What's in the Ice Cream Aisle? Archived 2018-05-04 at the Wayback Machine". International Dairy Foods Association. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  3. ^ "What is Italian Ice?". Retrieved 2024-04-08.
  4. ^ Bienenstock, David (August 20, 2015). "The Best Italian Ice Is Frozen in Time". Munchies. Vice Media. Archived from the original on 2019-07-18. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  5. ^ "Top 10 Italian Ice Flavors". K 104.7. 2018-06-12. Archived from the original on 2018-06-14. Retrieved 2022-06-02.
  6. ^ "Choice Reviews | Login". doi:10.5860/choice.38-4203. Archived from the original on 2019-12-10. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  7. ^ Davidson, Alan (2014-11-20). Jaine, Tom (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199677337.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-967733-7. Archived from the original on 2020-01-10. Retrieved 2022-12-02.
  8. ^ "Water ice: What it is, what it isn't, how to say it and where to get it". pennlive. 2018-07-20. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  9. ^ Von Bergen, Jane M. (23 May 2015). "What water ice teaches us about the world". Archived from the original on 18 July 2019. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
  10. ^ Beans, Carolyn (2016-08-10). "Water Ice, Philly's Classic Summer Cooler, Gets Hot Across The Country". NPR. Archived from the original on 2022-05-24. Retrieved 2022-05-25.