Drinks that heal

Drinks that heal

Can the traditional art of preserving fruits into syrupy deliciousness be an answer to a healthy you? Madhulika Dash believes it definitely can

Jamaica & Chia& Horchata

Nothing quenches thirst like water, but it is sharbat that makes summers a treat. After all, it is the only time of the year when one can truly indulge in their syrupy deliciousness, feel the different layers of flavours and even enjoy the delicate nuances that are often not as pronounced in the fruit nor are they brought to the fore courtesy the age-old preservation technique.

In fact, says Chef Sharad Dewan, Regional Director, Food Production, The Park Hotels, “The art of making sharbat, which is this breathtaking umbrella of kanji, panna and kadi, is perhaps the finest example of organic taste manipulation, designed to get a different taste.” Take the case of kala gajjar kanji, a winter favourite in North of India, especially the North frontier region.

This close to 7th century drink, unlike popular perceptions, is native to our land as it uses the pickle fermentation technique not only to get its sweet umami taste, but also to bring out its various antioxidant properties to the fore.

Fascinatingly, adds Chef Dewan, “it is also a brilliant stomach coolant, an effective digestive and a drink that, as per traditional wisdom, builds your gut, liver and heart health in just a glass if had regularly for only a few weeks.”

Yet another example of this is Bala Panna or in more common parlance, bael ka sharbat.

A favourite of the Eastern (and to some extend North East and central India too), this pre-summer drink, says culinary curator Alka Jena (CulinaryXpress), “is perhaps the multi-faceted antidote to a number of seasonal change-related issues that we are susceptible to during this time of the year.” Made of simple ingredients — mostly salt with a little sugar, if required — this Before Christ brew has been hailed by many an ancient texts for its curative values ranging from being an instant coolant to a gut booster and even a laxative that helps you detox post a season of feasting.

So valued is a glass of Bela Panna, says Jena, “that over the years, there have been variants that are tailor-made for a certain cause.

So, while a simple salted bael juice is for cooling and detox, one that is made with sattu is for strengthening and recovery, while another with coconut, chenna and cream is offered as a gourmet treat.”

Fascinatingly, being disguised as a summer treat is one of the virtues that many of the traditional curative brews have in common.

Take the case of the sabja (or chia) based Kashmiri drink called Kan Sharbat.

A milk-based lukewarm drink, says Chef Nisar Ahmed, Corporate Chef, Mayfair Hotels, “having it during the time when winter turns to summer is a ritual in the state, especially in the mornings or evenings when the temperature drops.”

Interestingly, the idea behind this still made-at-home drink is not just the seed’s known cooling properties but also its ability to control the spike in blood sugar, bloating (which can happen in high-altitude spaces), constipation and of course cold, cough and flu. For Kashmir-born Chef Ahmed though, it is the best “digestive with that added warmth that aids in sleeping as well.”

A role that is played with clever effectiveness by the delicious duo of Buransh ka juice (made of rhododendron flowers) and Malte ka juice (citrus fruit) in Uttrakhand, where one is a pre-meal digestive and another the rich source of Vitamin C and other antioxidant.

Such is the curative efficiency of the drinks that, like most of their other peers, these have been woven into the food culture, with the former playing the role of an appetite booster (summers have that effect when you don’t feel like eating) while the latter is a much-suggested re-hydrant that doubles up as a digestive and also the “multi-vitamin” to get through the hotter days and bordering cold evenings.

Down in Amritsar, that responsibility lies with the Khus-Badam ka Sharbat. Readily made at home and available in old by-lanes of this food city, the virtues of this trading route drink, says Chef Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Embassy Leisure, “isn’t just limited to the fact that it appeals to the palate which is looking for something creamy yet lighter to taste given the days are getting warmer; it also works at fighting the vagaries of the heat, much like the lemon-peppered-sattu sharbat in Bihar.”

Amritsar-born Chef Seth in fact, finds having a glass even today, very refreshing, “both for the palate and the stomach. And the interesting bit is like any other food, it is a natural craving. So much so that with milk, it can make for a good meal.” That, says nutritional therapist Sveta Bhasin, “is the beauty of sharbats that were not designed as mere palate-friendly drinks but as organic medium that could extract the goodness of a fruit, herb or seeds, and then aid in an equally effective assimilation into the body. The solution was the origin of sharbat or as some ancient text refers to as kashayam, an effective, simple yet decadent way to have them.”

What makes us crave them though, adds Bhasin, “is the mineral, essentially sugar and salt, requirement that the sharbats fulfil along with the necessary nutrients that help in the instant repair work caused by any kind of salt and water loss — both of which happen frequently in summers.”

The Mexican summer trio

It is not just the love for chillies and slow-cooked curries (read: mole) that we have in common with the Aztec nation, we also share a deep commitment for curative drinks too, especially of summer coolants. A fine example of this are the three popular Mexican brews — Horchata, Jamaica and Chia Fresca.

Popular street drinks of Mexico that are available through the summer, which, says Chef Vikas Seth (Culinary Director, Sanchez), is at least nine months a year, an equivalent to Indian summers. But having a summer coolant isn’t what joins the two nations, but the composition and purpose behind as well. Much like in India, adds Chef Seth, “these three drinks are often based on that one hero ingredient with seasoning used to elevate its curative purpose. So in Horchata for instance, which is served mostly as a post-meal digestive, the main ingredient is the rice milk — a natural coolant. To this, is added a dash of lime and salt if needed and then served with a dash of cinnamon. Chia Fresca on the other hand is an interesting take on the Mexican lime juice with basil seeds working both the flavour element and nutritional elevation.

Given its light nature, it is had through the day.” In fact, shops across Mexico cities sell it till the wee hours of night as an effective coolant. The other drink which is also popular for its antioxidant and calming properties is Jamaica. Made by steeping dried hibiscus flowers, this naturally sweet drink, adds Chef Seth, “has seen quite a few variants including one with orange and another with ginger as well.” But for most purposes, it is the original that is more popular. After all, it also jigs up the palate to enjoy a meal!

 

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