From the subtle flavors of Kashmir to the sweet and spicy flavor bomb from Maharashtra, these unique drinks never fail to bring us pure joy. In many parts of India, traces of the advent of the summer season begin to show around March. Engulfed in the hot and humid weather, there’s only one thing that gives people a sense of respite — a refreshing sherbet made out of curd, lemon, or any seasonal berries and fruits.
Although the concept of sherbet (sharbat), often claimed to be the world’s first soft drink, is rooted in the Persian sharbat — a sugary concoction infused with flowers and fruits, its influence in India began to materialize during the Mughal rule. Certain texts also attribute the invention of sharbat to the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras. Whatever may be the origin, sharbat, squashes, or locally brewed beverages have continued to quench our thirst and satisfy our senses for centuries.
Not surprisingly then, India has an exhaustive list of drinks or coolers that go beyond the restraints of seasons and fill us with flavor, nostalgia, and pure joy.
Here are only a few lesser-known drinks you should try:
A delicacy from the northern region of India, famous in Jammu and Kashmir, Babri Beol is an ancient summer drink made of basil seeds or sabja seeds. Allegedly, it was the Mughal emperor Babur who had introduced these seeds to the people of this region.
Known for its subtle and refreshing flavor, Babri Beol is a beverage made from simple ingredients like milk, water, basil seeds, and coconut. In the local language, it is also known as Kan Sherbat, with Kan meaning precious jewels, as a reference to the seeds that swell up into translucent pearls when soaked in water.
This is a unique beverage that is consumed warm or at room temperature but magically works as an excellent cooler. Originated in the banks of the Konkan coast which is known for its abundant produce of kokum or amsul, this blush-colored drink is made with coconut milk and kokum syrup with a surprising kick of chilies and spices like cumin and mustard seeds. A common mildly sweet and spicy beverage in Maharashtra yet to find its footing across the country, Sol Kadi is said to be the perfect way to end a spicy meal, especially during summer. It is also good for health and the soul.
Most of us know and have tasted buttermilk but West Bengal has its own version of buttermilk elevated by none other than the kind of flavors, the mighty lemon Gondhoraj. Known as Gondhoraj ghol, this drink is made out of curd, black salt, sugar, iced water, and the aromatic brilliance of the Gondhoraj juice extracted out of an oblong-shaped dark green colored lemon. While the summer season is the best time to have this, this simple beverage with complex flavors is often consumed all around the year, based on its availability.
Not for the faint-hearted, Chuak, is a locally-brewed beverage from Northeast India’s Tripura region which has an interesting blend of strong flavors. A rice beer made by fermenting rice and beer, it is consumed during festivals and special social occasions like weddings. It is usually brewed by the most experienced elders of the community and shared with a family as a token of love and appreciation.
Another unique beverage from the eastern state of Chattisgarh, Tikhur, also known as Palo, is a processed rhizome of an indigenous herb called Curcuma Angustifolia. Also known as East Indian Arrowroot, this beverage is painstakingly prepared over days. It starts from foraging the native rhizome, followed by cleaning it and making a paste that is soaked overnight, decanted to separate the residue which is then sun-dried to make pristine globules of soluble starch. Rich in carbohydrates, the sweet watery drink made out of these globules is said to be very good for bone health and helps in keeping the body cool.
Made from the ice apple of the Palmyra tree, this is an instant thirst-quencher that is popular in many parts of the country but is known by different names like Targola in Maharashtra, Taal in West Bengal, and Nongu in Tamil Nadu. Tender and filled with subtle flavors, this body cooler is also known for its versatility. Although traditionally made with simple ingredients like sugar, water, and lime, many also combine it with mango, rose, and milk.