What’s your sherbet?
Sherbet, sharbat, sarbath…whatever you call it, the word comes from the Arabic shariba, meaning “to drink”, and arrived in India with the Mughal emperors in the 16th century. Though not uniquely Indian, the country has a uniquely vast range of naturally delicious drinks designed to keep us cool and sane during the brutal summer months when energy is low and appetites are flagging. There is a replenishing and restorative sherbet to suit every palate: yogurt and buttermilk-based drinks to settle stomachs; jaggery versions for a quick energy boost; salty/sweet/sour blends to wake up jaded tastebuds and replace lost salts and minerals. Citrus fruits like lemon and amla (Indian gooseberry) can be added for an extra vitamin boost, along with health-giving herbs and spices. Here is our guide to some of the best-loved sherbets from around the country.
Summers in traditional Marathi households are heralded with copious quantities of this classic kokum cooler. Amsul or kokum, a souring agent, is thought to cure nausea and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This refreshing drink can be made by soaking half a cup of kokum in 1 cup of warm water for 1 hour. Then squeeze the kokum and water through a sieve, add 3 cups of water, sugar and salt to taste. Serve chilled over ice.
This is a Bengali drink that marries thick curd, iced water, zest and juice of gondhoraj lime, salt and sugar to instantly revive spirits. The gondhoraj lime, highly prized in Bengal, has a very subtle aroma and flavour similar to the kaffir lime. This drink is a bit like lassi, but with a thinner consistency. Very little of the lime juice is needed to make a big impact
Chandan jo sherbet
Popular among the Sindhi community, chandan jo sherbet is a cooling amber-coloured sandalwood-based drink. Put 30g of sandalwood powder in a piece of muslin, then add to a sugar syrup made from 1 litre water and 500g sugar. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then leave to cool. Add 2 tsp of rose and kewra (pandanus plant extract) water. Cover and leave to steep overnight. Squeeze out and discard the sandalwood bag, then strain the syrup. To serve, dilute about 2 tbsp in a glass with chilled water or soda, then decorate with varq (silver leaf).
Kachri ka paani
An unusual drink made from wild melons, it’s popular in Delhi, where the fruit can be found growing wild during certain months of the year. It is packed with antioxidants and is good for sluggish digestive systems. To 500ml water, add 2 tsp aniseed, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black salt, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder, a pinch of hing (asafoetida), 2 tsp amchur (dried mango powder), 1 tsp grated fresh ginger, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves. Peel the kachri and remove the seeds, cut the flesh into small pieces, then mix into the water.
Bel ka sherbet
This is a simple but potent drink from Uttar Pradesh. The fruit is said to cure everything from heatstroke to diabetes. In fact, every part of the bel (wood apple) tree is used to treat common ailments. The fruit makes a lovely refreshing summer drink. Once you’ve broken through its tough outer shell, soak the pulp in water, and add jaggery and lemon juice to taste.
Almonds form the base for this luxurious sherbet from Goa which is largely reserved for special occasions. Blanch and skin 500g almonds, and blitz in a food processor with enough water to make a thin purée. Strain through a muslin cloth, adding about 750ml to extract maximum liquid from the almonds. Make a syrup (1 thread) with 250g sugar and 1 litre water. Add the almond liquid and cook till thickened. Add 1 tsp rosewater, cool, and serve diluted with water and crushed ice.
This cooling Tamil spiced buttermilk drink is like a savoury lassi made from yogurt, green chillies, curry leaves and ginger. There are versions of this drink across the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. It is thought to have probiotic, hydrating and reviving properties and is an aid to digestion.
A refreshing and cooling drink from Maharashtra’s Konkan region, solkadhi is made by mixing equal quantities of kokum water and coconut milk, along with garlic, green chillies and fresh coriander. Some recipes also involve a tempering of spices.
This is a lovely cappuccino-coloured sarsaparilla drink from Madurai. It is made by boiling milk to half its volume, then adding almond gum (badam pisin) and sarsaparilla root syrup (nannari). It is usually served with scoops of ice cream. Sarsaparilla has traditionally been used as a cure for arthritis, and to boost the immune system.
Named after the Sanskrit word for “sweet drink”, this is the Tamil way to keep cool and is an Ayurvedic energy boost (it balances the three doshas apparently). It is often made during the Rama Navami and Narasimha Jayanti festivals. Made from lemon juice, jaggery, ginger, black pepper and cardamom, it looks a bit like flat cola, but it’s a lot better for you. The jaggery, as well as boosting blood sugar levels, also contains some of the minerals our bodies lose in the heat.