Sherbetnama: A taste of traditional cooling drinks : The Tribune India

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Sherbetnama: A taste of traditional cooling drinks

In the sweltering heat, a taste of the traditional cooling drinks that have been providing solace for centuries

Sherbetnama: A taste of traditional cooling drinks

The method can be applied to prepare sherbet from other flower petals like mahua or sarsaparilla root. The beverage is much less sweet than cloying cordials. istock

Pushpesh Pant

It’s not surprising that in India, where summer is like a furnace, poets smitten by love have found solace in sherbet. Many shayars have penned verses using sherbet metaphorically to describe the beauty of the beloved.

The word ‘sherbet’ is derived from the Arabic ‘shariba’, that translates as drinking. In Turkish and Persian, it becomes ‘sherbet’. In India, it retains the Persian name. The first documented reference is traced to a medicinal work, ‘Zakhira-e-Khawarizm Shahi’, compiled by Syed Hadi Husain Khan, sometime during the 11th and 12th centuries. This is considered a medicinal encyclopaedia that mentions many therapeutic sherbets.

Ambi panna

Sherbet was very popular in Persia, where the sun was scorching in the southern parts during summer. The people of Hindustan were used to drinking sugarcane juice to cope with the heat till they encountered tastier juices of fruits and flowers blended together. Empress Noorjahan is credited with introducing the rose sherbet in the subcontinent.

At the dawn of the 20th century, famous Unani physician and freedom fighter Ajmal Khan had created a sherbet not to beat the heat, but to combat coughs and cold in winter. Another Unani hakim, Abdul Majid of Hamdard Dawakhana, made a sherbet after blending juices of myriad flowers and vegetables that had time-tested refreshing, cooling and invigorating qualities. It was appropriately named Rooh Afzah, a drink which promised to revive wilting spirits. But before the traditional sherbets could step out to conquer the world, the American carbonated sodas and cold drinks colonised the world.

Rose sherbet

‘Dilli Ke Chatkhaare’, a memoir written by Shahid Ahmed Dehalvi at the turn of the 20th century, mentions a sherbet-farosh of Delhi who braved the blazing sun to bring assorted sherbets to thirsty patrons. But with the invasion of bottled drinks and fizzy sodas, their days became numbered.

Some sherbets of yore that have become almost extinct are mahua (madhuca longifolia) ka sherbet, palash (flame of the forest) ka sherbet and gul gudhal (hibiscus flower) ka sherbet. All were prepared with juices of flowers. Phalse ka sherbet, with its delicate purple hue and slightly tangy taste, used to be quite popular in Delhi. Phalse are berries that have a very short season and squeezing the juice out of these is a testing process. Bael ka sherbet has a pleasant yellow colour and fragrance. It was believed to have many therapeutic properties and was much easier to make once the hard nut — the stone apple — was cracked. A much lighter shade of green was displayed by amla-adrak ka sherbet, garnished with refreshing mint leaves.

Different regions of India take proprietorial pride in their own sherbet. Sattu ka sherbet sweetened with jaggery is beloved of the people residing in eastern UP and Bihar. Its texture is more like a smoothie than a squash and it is more of a light meal than a beverage. In Jharkhand, we were introduced by our tribal host to neem ka manda, a mildly sweetened (with jaggery) antidote to sunstroke, prepared with dried and powdered neem leaves mixed with kanji-like starchy water obtained after boiling rice.

Along the coastal belt, kokum sherbet is preferred. In Uttarakhand, juice is extracted from the large flowers of buraansh (rhododendron) to prepare a sherbet that is blood red in colour and tickles the palate with a refreshing tang. In Kerala, the most popular traditional sherbet was prepared with Indian sarsaparilla’s (anantmula) root.

None of the desi coolants needed the crutches of artificial colours, fragrances or added flavours. Badam sherbet and thandai were white, bael and sandal swerved towards yellow, khus was emerald, and amla-adrak-pudina concoction and ambi panna were a lighter shade of green. Phalsa, palash and gudhal were in shades of red, while jamun ka sherbet was violet-tinted.

Our good friend Qamar Agha from Allahabad insists that the art of preparing and serving sherbet is almost dead. The old way was to pour sherbet into a copper or brass pyaala. The water used was naturally cooled in a clay surahi. In any case, ice was an unaffordable luxury for the masses till the 1930s. Slabs of ice were brought for Mughal rulers and aristocratic courtiers from the Himalayas via special runners or on boats. The British started ‘farming ice’ in Delhi in ice factories much later.

According to Ayurveda, the summer season depletes energy by dehydrating the body and exposing it to high-fever-like body temperature. The sensation of heat takes many forms: daah (burning), taap (heating) and santaap (residue of unpleasant heat that lingers like remorse).

Fresh coconut water is an excellent readymade natural sherbet. Bottled sweet coconut water is now available all across the land, as are tender green coconuts. City-dwellers sometimes substitute coconut water for water in shikanji and some other sherbets. Alas, most thirsty people resort to the shortcut of bottled sherbet concentrates, overloaded with preservatives, acidity regulators, artificial flavours, colours, etc.

We have pleasure in sharing with our readers some hassle-free recipes of traditional sherbets that retain their natural goodness and are guaranteed to keep you cool, hydrated and refreshed as the mercury rises and relentless heatwave persists.

Imli ka sherbet


  • Imli pulp/paste 50 gm (easily available without additives)
  • Jaggery or unrefined sugar 50 gm
  • Black rock salt 1 large pinch
  • Black peppercorns 10-12 (coarsely pounded)
  • Alubukhara (pitted dried plums) 5-6
  • Seedless dates 4 (optional, sliced)

Method: Bring to boil 6 cups of water in a pan and add the tamarind pulp and other ingredients into it. Cook on medium flame till all ingredients are well blended. Check seasoning. Remove from flame and allow to cool. Sieve through a fine cloth or soup strainer. Chill and serve with preferred garnish. This used to be the traditional first sip imbibed after the day-long fasting in the holy month of Ramzan, not only in India but in Turkey as well. It is called temrindi sherbet. Tamarind was identified as the date of India by the Arabs and Turks. Alubukhara adds a fruity tang to it.

Palash ka sherbet


  • Petals of palash flower A handful (fresh or dry)
  • Fennel seeds 1 tsp
  • Mishri (crystal sugar) 1 tsp
  • Black peppercorns (coarsely pounded) 10-12
  • Green cardamom seeds (crushed) 1/2 tsp
  • Rock salt To taste
  • Dried mint leaves 1 tsp
  • Lemon juice 1 tsp

Method: Soak all ingredients in 5 cups of water. Cover and keep aside for at least six hours. Sieve the aromatic water into another pan. Refrigerate and serve undiluted with ice cubes and fresh mint leaves as garnish.

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