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A taste of red


One thing which is common at all iftar tables, irrespective of class, status and community is the lal (red) sherbet

The city’s chief meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz has already warned the public that the temperature is likely to rise after the first week of Ramazan, and as we all know the rising mercury level increases the demand for refreshing drinks at iftar.

In fact, otherwise also with the onset of summer season the demand for cold beverages increases manifold. Many kinds of drinks become more popular among people in the summer season such as packaged flavoured drinks, soft drinks, milkshakes, packaged juices, soda water, squash etc.

But when the month of Ramazan falls in summer, especially in Karachi, drinks take a very special place at the iftar table in every household. At least a week before the arrival of Ramazan, the houses in Karachi get ready to stock up on their favourite snacks and treats to break the fast. And this of course includes the traditional red ‘sherbet’ (beverage) that is prepared with a red syrup. The common food items available at almost every iftar table include dates, pakoras, chana chat, dahi baray, fruit chat and jalebi. But, in the privileged households there’s a long list of expensive items like prawn tempura, golden fried prawns and crispy prawns, fish fingers, fish pakora and host of other items prepared with chicken. But then one thing which is common at all the iftar tables, irrespective of class, status and community is the lal (red) sherbet.

This particular sherbet is prepared with the essence of flowers, fruits and herbal syrups. The month of Ramazan brings the beverage to the forefront, with its average sales increasing exponentially during the holy month. Mosques, family iftar parties and communal kitchens all offer this drink to all those who wish to break their fast together. It is even available at the ‘free for all’ iftar tables set up at the roadsides of the city for all those who fail to reach home in time to break their fast.

Though one can find different brands of this sherbet in the market with different names, the traditional red colour, taste and flavour of the drink has not changed much. However, the rivalry between the brands is still there. While driving through Karachi, we come across billboards of Rooh Afza. Then while passing through a network of bridges, we see some other billboards of Shezan’s Samarkand, or Qarshi’s Jam-e-Shirin or Naurus’s signature brand. In short, we are certain to find a good stock of one of these brands at every pantry to ensure their presence at the iftar table every day.


The traditional sherbet has come a long way through the annals of history as a typically Eastern drink. While new recipes are constantly made using different ingredients and to varying results, the basic aim has always been to provide refreshment and instant hydration. It is an affordable and revitalizing drink, shared with community members across generations, and has been associated with our culture and the tradition of Ramazan in particular.

Versatile syrup

The best thing about this red syrup is that besides a drink it can also be used in the preparation of a number of desserts as well. For instance, it is used in making raspberry and rose soufflé, rose-custard cream cookies, milkshakes, lassi, coconut-flavoured sweet pulao, etc. It is even used for colouring kulfi, ice cream, caramel pudding, falooda and a host of other items.

The ingredients of this sherbet include the essences of coriander, orange, pineapple, carrot, rose petals, spinach and mint. It is said to have great effects on cardiovascular health. According to doctors, the consumption of fizzy drinks during Ramazan may cause digestion problems. This is also one of the reasons why the general public opts for the lal sherbet especially during the holy month.

Since the sherbet is made from fruits, vegetables, flowers that are natural ingredients, it helps in improve the energy level. The word sherbet is an Arabic word which means ‘to drink’. Historically speaking, the earliest sherbet recipes can be found as early as the 11th century in the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by Persian writer Ibn-e-Sina, and the sherbets then slowly gained popularity in Europe and other parts of Asia. Particularly, this Persian drink entered the subcontinent via the Mughals in the 16th century, with Emperor Babur specifically ordering ice from the Himalayas to add to his refreshments.

However, the story of the modern South Asian sherbet started with a herbal apothecary in Delhi in 1906. Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majid of the renowned Hamdard Laboratories wanted to concoct a drink that would prevent dehydration and keep the residents of Delhi cool in soaring temperatures. A Hindu Ayurveda health expert developed mixtures of some ingredients and came up with a medicine that had all the potential to counter heatstroke, heart palpitations and water losses in the body. It was named ‘Rooh Afza’ or ‘soul elixir’.


Some years later, the refreshing mixture was soon changed from a medicine to a refreshment. Mirza Noor Ahmad, an artist, prepared a unique and vibrant label to help the Hakim’s product sell in the market in 1910. The popularity of the drink encouraged other beverage companies to enter the market. The specific Unani (Greek) recipe of Rooh Afza combines several ingredients popularly believed to be cooling agents, such as rose, which is used as a remedy for ‘loo’, the hot summer wind that blows through the subcontinent.

According to medical experts, the intensity of heat causes excessive sweating, which in turn increases the excretion of salts from the human body, leading to irritability, nervousness, fatigue, weakness, dizziness and indigestion as well. So, in order to get rid of such complaints, one should remain hydrated. And as the month of Ramazan is coinciding with a hotter period of the year, it is essential that one stays hydrated from iftar to sehr.


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