The Long Cold Drink

While the summer has been relatively mild, there is still that hot day when after a foray outdoors, one would give anything for a long, cold drink.

But which one?

Rooh Afza

A sharbat? Often called the world’s first soft drink (there are references from as far back as the 12th century), the sharbat probably has its origins in Persia. At least the word itself does, and means a sugar and water drink. It is made by combining fruit juices or extracts from flowers or herbs with sugar and water. India’s favourite sharbat is of course Rooh Afza which means ‘refresher of the soul’. It was formulated in 1906 by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed based on a Unani formula, and contains cooling ingredients like rose. Manufactured by Hamdard (in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh!), this is had with either water or milk, and also poured on falooda and other summer-special sweets.

If you are in Tamilnadu, you can also sample a sharbat unique to those parts—the nanaari sharbat. This is made from the nannari root (Indian Sarsaparilla) which is an Ayurvedic herb. This too is supposed to have cooling properties and helps to prevent dehydration. It is not a taste everyone likes, but for those who do, it is summer’s nectar.

Or how about a squash? Kissan orange squash used to be the staple of our childhoods, a treat that usually was served when guests came around. Also available was lemon squash, and I think pineapple. Basically, a squash is a non-alcoholic drink, made from fruit juice (usually citrus fruits), water and sugar. Sometimes, food colouring and flavouring are added. Squashes are mixed with water or soda before drinking, or even with alcoholic beverages to make cocktails.

Kissan also used to have a lime cordial drink, which for some reason was more rarely bought by my mother. So of course it was something we all hankered after! But now I learn that there is no difference at all between the two! The term squash is used more in the UK, and cordial in the US. However, cordial can sometimes be used to denote an alcoholic beverage like a liqueur, while a squash is always non-alcoholic.

But as age catches up, sharbats and squashers which are super-high on sugar are something that one has to keep away from.

Well, juices I suppose can take their place. Juice can be freshly squeezed or out of bottles or cans. The latter variety may just be the juice canned in liquid form, or made from concentrate. Juice from concentrates is made from fresh fruits, only the water is removed from the fruit pulp. It is easier to transport, and when it reaches its destination, it is reconstituted with the same amount of water that was removed, and canned.

‘To juice or not to juice’ is an eternal controversy. Medical opinion holds that juicing is no healthier than eating whole fruits or veggies, as it is not easier to absorb nutrients from juices than the whole fruits. It is also not significantly less healthy, as most of the vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals come into the juice as well. The only loss may be of fiber, which is lost in the process. So you can guiltlessly drink juice and count it against your fruit/veggie quota, and feel cooler (pun intended) in the process.

And of course the ever-favourite desi options, of which lassi and buttermilk or chaas lead the pack. Lassi, popular in the North, is thick and hearty, and made by blending yogurt with sugar, flavourings, nuts etc. There is also of course the salted version. The ‘malai marke’ version can be a meal in itself!

The ‘chaash’ or ‘mooru’ popular in the West and South is the liquid left after churning butter. It is light and invariably salted, and seasoned with cumin, curry leaves, hing etc. It can be consumed by the gallons!

Nimbu shikanji is Indianized lemonade. It is like a lemonade but with the mandatory addition of shikanji masala which has roasted cumin powder, chaat masala, etc.

Then there is the Aam Panna made from raw green mangoes, sugar, and spices. Again a bit dicey for the amount of sugar needed (and no, substitutes don’t taste as good!).

Another delecious drink is panagam, popular in Tamilnadu. Made of jaggery and lemon juice, and seasoned with cardomom, it is traditionally made for Rama Navami. Sadly, it is forgotten for the rest of summer.

And how can I end without a reference to jigarthanda, the drink of the city of my birth, Madurai? It means something like ‘cool heart’ and obviously is an import from the North. It is made of milk, almond gum, sarsaparilla root,  sugar and ice cream.  Madurai has much to offer visitors, from temples to bazaars. But a visit, especially in summer, would not be complete without a jigarthanda from one of several stalls, all of which of course claim to be the ‘original’!

Whatever your choice, stay cool!


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