The word Sherbet derives from the Arabic word “shariba”, “to drink.” Shariba gave rise to numerous derivatives, in Arabic and other languages, including English. Whatever it was called in any language, however, sherbet’s principal meaning remains “syrup” or its derivative, “a cooling drink of the East,” as the Oxford English Dictionary calls it. Sherbet is the world’s first soft drink, it was created in the Ottoman Empire, where people used to drink sherbet to protect themselves from diseases. Sherbet is essentially a combination of fruit juices, and extracts of flowers or herbs, which are mixed with water and sugar. During the time of the Ottomans, there were roughly 300 types of sherbets made from various fresh flowers and fruits such as rose, lily, jasmine, silverberry, lotus, violet and others. Sherbet was one of the most important products both in the kitchen of the palace and the public in the past. As the Ottoman Empire expanded along with the spread of Islam, so did the custom of drinking Sherbet. A concoction that inspired many imbibers with its intense, distilled fragrance of fruits, flowers or herbs, both today and historically, sherbet is perhaps the most widespread drink in the Muslim world.
Today, this traditional drink is still kept alive in modern life but with fewer types. In some parts of the world the simple lemon sherbet translates to lemonade, as it is the simple combination of the lemon fruit and water along with a sweetener. The Lemmon Sherbet is actually a tradition during Ramadan in South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh. One such recipe served to this day in the United Arab Emirates is Sharab Loomi Ma Ward, or Lemon Sherbet with Rosewater.
Classic Turkish Sherbet
Now traditionally sherbet is served during Ramadan in crystal bowls or in tall cut glasses. Glasses may be ornamented with gilt flowers and filled with ice cubes or snow. The classic Sherbet is the pretty pink Gül Serbeti, or Rose Sherbet, which is a simple combination of rose petals in water. It is more of a Middle Eastern custom and actually more often served to brides and grooms at Muslim weddings in South Asia due to its romantic hue and essence.
Far across Asia, in India and Afghanistan as well, once the groom’s family has offered presents, the bride’s family reciprocates by offering Gul Sherbet. It was said that the woman who has “drunk sherbet” has accepted the groom’s suit. However, because the process of make a true Rose Sherbet from scratch is a bit lengthy it is reserved more often for special occasions. Although in modern times, there are plenty of store bought syrups available for making this drink, I have included an original recipe here.
Rose Sherbet (Gul Serbeti)
1 cup rose petals (pink or red). These petals are to be mixed with water
2 lbs. sugar
4 cups water
1 2/3 cups lemon juice
4 cups water
Remove the yellow portion of the petals because they are bitter. Simply snip it off with scissors. Wash the petals under cool running water.
Stuff the petals into a jar.
Pour the lemon juice over the petals. Mix it around a bit with your hand to cover them all, then cover the mouth of the jar with a cheese cloth and tie it tightly. Leave it in a shady spot or in a cupboard for a week. If it is the summer time, 3 days will be enough. During this time, the scent and color of the petals will be transferred to the lemon juice.
Take out half the rose petals and add half of the sugar. Let this mixture sit for another week.
Now add the remaining sugar and the water and mix well. Strain the liquid and bottle it. The syrup should keep a good long while in the fridge.
To drink, pour two drops of syrup into a glass, top with water and add ice.
Sherbet from the Persian Empire and South Asia
It seems that every part of the Muslim world has its own style of Sherbet. Some specifically for Ramadan and others that are served for different occasions. In Iran, for example, sherbet is often made from aromatic flowers rather than just fruit, mostly in Shiraz, which produces and exports to other parts of Iran those flower extracts (called ‘araq—literally “perspiration”). Other flowers are bahar narenj (orange blossoms) and bidmeshk (Egyptian or musk-willow).
Moving away from flowers, an Indian-style sherbet that is a milk-based drink can be served frosty cold or even warm. It is a blend of milk, cream, almonds, and rosewater for an exotic but refreshing sweet drink. Today I have the recipe for a Badam Sherbet (Badam – means nuts). It is essentially a delicious form of almond milk as the nut of choice for this recipe is almonds. This particular recipe is commonly made in all Sri Lankan Muslim homes, every night of Ramadan and at most special occasions. Did you know that Islam is the third most dominant religion in the country, having first been brought to the island by Arab traders over the course of many centuries, starting around the 7th century AD?
Badam (Almond) Sherbet
2 cups condensed milk
7 cups water
½ cup finely ground almonds
½ tablespoon powdered sugar
2 tablespoons rose water
Green food coloring optional
Combine the milk, water, ground almonds, sugar and rosewater in a blender, and blend until thoroughly mixed and smooth, about 1 minute. Serve over ice.
It is best served chilled. You can also add finely chopped almonds or pistachios to top each drink before serving.
Western Watermelon Sherbet
However, you choose to drink your Sherbet, it is an essential part of Ramadan, because after a long day of fast, it is important to hydrate and Muslims choose fruit juices and flavored drinks to do so. For a modern option to the fruit juice during these hot summer days of Ramadan try a fresh Watermelon Sherbet that is quick and easy to make with only two ingredients. Watermelon is a fruit that is full of water and will leave you refreshed.
1 cup Watermelon cubes
1 tablespoon honey
In a blender mix the watermelon and honey. Pour over ice in a tall glass and enjoy.
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