The History Of Sherbet: India's Favorite Summer Cooler

Till date in India, the relentless summer heat calls for quenching thirst with a traditional summer cooler popularly known as sherbet. Across many regions, a chilled glass of sherbet still remains popular, fending off invasions from cheap aerated drinks. Sherbet is one of the favorite summer drinks all over India and it is quite common to see people quenching their thirst at sherbet stalls. While growing up, our favorite memory around sherbet is about guzzling down glasses of chilled apple sherbet after school for as little as INR 5/-

Lets dive a little deeper in the history of sherbet, India's favorite summer cooler.

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A Little Bit Of History

The word sherbet is influenced by Turkish "serbet", Persian "sharbat" and Arabic sharba(t) a drink. The oldest mention of Sherbet is found in a Persian book of 12th century, Zakhireye Khwarazmshahi. In this medical encyclopedia, the author Ismail Gorgani describes the sherbet varieties available in Iran then, including Anar, Ghoor, and Sekanjebin.

Also known as world's first soft drink, Sherbet became popular in the Indian subcontinent during the rule of the Mughal emperor Babur. Legend says that he used to send his people to the Himalayas to get fresh ice to make this refreshing drink. Jahangir, another Mughal emperor was fond of falooda sherbet. Now isn't this an interesting tidbit about history of sherbet, India's favorite summer cooler!

Ingredients and Preparation

Sherbet is usually a syrup made from fruit, flower extracts and herbs. The syrup is then diluted with water and sugar/salt may be added for taste. Many sherbets are often served with ice. Milk is used to dilute the syrup instead of water for some varieties like falooda sherbet.

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During the earlier days, boiled sugar cane juice was used to make the syrup for sherbet. Latter, flower/herbal extracts, known as “Arak” were added to this cane syrup. Arak is made from variety of fruits/herbs such as rose, saffron, sandalwood, pineapple, lemon, mango, orange, hibiscus, khus (vettiver), falsa and screw-pine. Some countries also used corn syrup to make sherbet.

The other ingredients used to make sherbets are - Lime juice (added to help prevent crystallization of sugar present in the syrup) and sabja seeds (basil seeds) for its cooling properties.

A combination of various syrups can also be used to make sherbet. For instance, rose, khus, and kewra can be combined together and diluted with evaporated milk (rabri). Rose gives fragrance to the sherbet, while khus makes the fragrance last longer and kewra enhances the sweetness of the sherbet. 

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How The World Enjoys Sherbet

Sherbet is also popular in countries like Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Arab nations.

Indian Subcontinent

In India, sherbets are prepared with varieties of fruits/flowers and combined with ice. The flavors can be salty, sweet, tangy or spicy. Sherbets are prepared across different regions based on the seasonal fruit/flower/herb available. For example, nannari sherbet (made from a fragrant herb, also called as sarsaparilla) is quite famous in South India whereas mango/lemon sherbet is popular in North India. In Goa and other western regions, kokum sherbet is popular in summer. Ginger, asafoetida (hing), tamarind are also added to the sherbet at times for additional flavour.

Kokum Sherbet - Image Source - Lavanya Kumara Krishnan - Creative Commons


Most of the above varieties are prepared in Pakistan and Bangladesh too. Shahi zafran ka sherbet (honey and saffron sherbet) is a popular Pakistani sherbet.

Iran

Iranians celebrate their new year’s holiday with a family picnic, eating and drinking seven things that start with the letter S. Sherbet prepared with fresh mint, sugar, and vinegar is an important part of their celebration.

Egypt

Egyptians enjoy a variety of sherbets. Their sherbets are mostly made of sugar and water, lemon, and violet flowers, mulberries, and sorrel. Sherbet made from liquorice root and fruit of the locust tree (the edible pod of this tree is said to resemble a locust) are also popular.

Turkey

Sherbet is quite famous in Turkey and is sold on the streets. Some sellers sell it in the traditional way by carrying a big brass flask with a long nozzle on their backs. The glasses are held in their sash. For a new customer, a glass is rinsed with water first and then the sherbet is poured.

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Europe & USA

From Turkey, sherbet spread to Romania, the Balkan area and other Western nations. It is popularly known as “serbet” or “sorbet” in some places. In the USA, sherbet is sold as a frozen cooler. However, that is not the original sherbet. With the introduction of carbonated drinks, sherbet has become less popular in Western nations.

Sherbet can be easily made at home with ready made syrup mixes or by preparing your own syrup with healthy ingredients like honey, flowers & herbs. Undoubtedly, sherbet, India's favorite summer cooler till today helps quench thirst of millions in a healthier way.

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