India has an armoury of drinks to fight the summer heat. And traditional ingredients make them all the more easier to make.
• Traditional Indian summer drinks can possibly be categorised into those that have seasonal fruits as a base ingredient and those that have dairy products as a base. What is common among most is their sour taste. The spices and condiments that add the tang are usually similar, with a little more of something and a little less of something else.
The ubiquitous mango is the reason why you would get aam panna or kairee panna in almost all parts of the country. The boiled pulp of green mango is spiced with roasted cumin, chillies, mint leaves, sugar and salt to make this tangy drink.
• Indigenous to the Western Ghats is the dark red kokum fruit that is an integral part of Konkani and Marathi cuisine and is sometimes used as a tamarind substitute. The two drinks commonly associated with this sour fruit are the kokum sharbat and sol kadi. The sharbat is a mix of the fruit pulp with black salt, roasted and ground cumin seeds, black peppercorn and salt. The sol kadi is a thicker variant that mixes the fruit’s juice with coconut milk, ginger and garlic.
• The pulp of bel or wood apple is also made into a summer drink in parts of India. The soft pulp is soaked in water for a couple of hours, before being mixed with roasted and ground cumin, black salt and sugar. Variants arise by substituting water with milk, and sugar with jaggery.
• The concept of mixing yogurt or buttermilk with milk or water takes different forms in different parts of the country and is consequently known as lassi, chhas, ghol or sambharam. Whether it is spiced with roasted and crushed cumin or sweetened with sugar, it is the cooling properties of yogurt that matters on hot summer days.
• Thandai — essentially, flavoured milk — is popular in northern India. A common recipe is to mix full fat milk with saffron, almonds, cardamom, fennel seeds, poppy seeds and sugar and serving it chilled.
• Perhaps a third category of summer drink would be those with simply water as a base. There's panakam (jaggery, dry ginger, crushed cardamom and pepper corns) from southern India, jaljeera (roasted and ground cumin seeds, a paste of coriander and mint leaves, lemon juice, dry mango powder, salt and sugar) and the omnipresent nimboo pani.
• Traditional ingredients ensure that these drinks actually help cool the body in the summer heat. “Summer fruits such as kokum and lime have high water and salt content that replenish the body. Salt, sugar, jaggery and mint, which are common ingredients, also replenish and refresh us. These drinks actually have beneficial properties to fight the heat,” says nutritionist Anjum Roshan Ali.
• Tender coconut water contains essential salts that are good for the body, adds Ali, while sugarcane juice is high in water and sugar content. “Nature ensures that the fruits we get in summer help fight the heat,” she says.