On a hot summer’s day, a cool drink is almost like manna from heaven. With the growing popularity of aerated drinks, however, traditional summer coolers seem to be taking a beating.
And while it’s easy to get into the artificial flavours and sugar trap, ultimately, desi drinks are the best bet.
Desi flavours: Indian coolers can broadly be divided into two categories—milk-based and fruit-based. Sugar-rich concentrates and lighter fresh juices are popular too.
For those who fancy milk, there’s nothing as refreshing as a glass of thandai – a blend of poppy seeds, nuts, saunf (fennel seeds), rose petals and melon seeds with milk. The season for thandai begins with the spring festival of Holi and lasts till monsoon.
Another milk-based summer cooler is the north-Indian favourite – thick, creamy lassi or whipped curd, which not only cools but is wholesome as well. A lighter milk-based drink is chaas (buttermilk), which is usually salty and spiked with cumin seeds that help in digestion. Tuti-fruity For the non milk-lovers, fruitbased drinks are a good option.
Fruit juices help the body stock up on essential vitamins and minerals though some of them are high on sugar. The trick is to stick to low-sugar fruits like watermelon rather than apples or grapes.
Among the traditional drinks, mango-based kairi ka panna, a spicy drink made of raw mango and aamras made from the pulp of ripe mangoes are a national favourite.
Coolers popular in the north also include bel ka sharbat, a drink made from the pulp of a fruit, bel pattar that resembles a small muskmelon but is less fragrant. The drink also works as a coolant for the stomach.
Phalse ka sharbat, made from a small berry-like fruit called phalsa is tangy and refreshing.
Bonda neer or the water of tender coconut is quite common in the coastal region, as is kokum sherbet. Made from the sour kokum fruit, this juice can be made both sweet and salty and is said to have a cooling effect on the body.
Sherbet-e-Azam: A mix of sugar and natural essence, sherbets are a good option, though they tend to be a little too sweet. Among these is Roohafza that has been an all-time favourite but is fast losing popularity. A fusion of herbs and rosewater, the concentrate available in the market is a classic cooler.
Rose sherbet concentrates can also be made at home by soaking rose petals in sugar syrup. Another excellent refresher is khus sherbet made from the root of the vetiver tree. A dash of lemon juice and a green chilli could be added for more character.
Also worth trying out are badaam sherbet, made with crushed almonds, and chandan-kesar sherbet, a blend of sandalwood paste and saffron.
Mirch masala: Contrary to what most people think, some spices do cool down the body and must be incorporated in summer drinks. A famous example is jaljeera, the strongly flavoured and spiced, yet cooling drink, which also aids digestion. A lemon drink mixed with spices – better known as shikanjavi – works in a similar fashion.
In Mangalore, sodas like hingasthak and madi phal, made with herbs and spices are a rage. In Bihar, sattu is very popular. A drink made with gram flour, it is tempered with green chillies and onions.
The best part about homemade drinks is that one can cut down on refined sugar by substituting it with honey that is nearly twice as sweet as white sugar. Here’s raising a toast to summer.