The History of Sharbat: India’s Favourite Summer Cooler

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

Also known as world’s first soft drink, Sharbat 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 sharbat. Now isn’t this an interesting tidbit about history of sharbat, India’s favourite summer cooler!

Ingredients and Preparation

During the earlier days, boiled sugar cane juice was used to make the syrup for sharbat. Later, 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 (vetiver), falsa and screw-pine. Some countries also used corn syrup to make sharbat.

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

A combination of various syrups can also be used to make sharbat. For instance, rose, khus, and kewra can be combined. Rose gives fragrance to the sharbat, while khus makes the fragrance last longer and kewra enhances the natural sweetness of the sharbat.