As a child I always quizzed my grandmother about the stark difference between the goodies on offer between Ramanavami and Krishna Jayanthi. Like for most kids, festivals almost always centred around food and the sweets in the mix. Lord Krishna’s birthday was nothing short of a feast with numerous sweets and snacks. Whereas, Lord Ram’s birthday that usually falls at the beginning of summer (March-April) was almost austere in comparison; butter milk, panakkam – a jaggery-based beverage and the moong dal salad – kosumbari (mostly in Karnataka) are usual preparations.
A couple of years ago a popular beverage start-up that isn’t shy to experiment launched Panakam (panaka in Kannada) as part of their summer line-up. It put a quintessential south Indian summer cooler under the national spotlight. For many of us, it also brought back wonderful memories from summer vacations when this was a ‘go-to’ summer cooler. Unlike fizzy drinks that taste the best when chilled, panakam hits the spot even if it is served at room temperature. In the past it was stored in earthen pots.
This simple summer beverage combines jaggery, dry ginger and cardamom. Some recipes also add a hint of crushed peppercorns or cooking camphor. While the beverage has a strong association with Ramanavami and Narasimha Jayanthi, it is served in quite a few homes in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka through the summer months. Jaggery is the key to this drink and it’s best to use dark jaggery with minimal processing. It’s not unusual to substitute jaggery with palm sugar.
Ancient science will probably tell us that Panakam was used as an Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) especially in parts of south India where the humidity and excessive sweating saps the body of fluids and salts. Jaggery in its purest form is loaded with electrolytes and raw carbohydrates. It’s the perfect antidote for dehydration. While butter milk is the everyday solution to beat the heat in most south Indian homes, panakam gives you an instant sweet and tangy boost. Jaggery is a rich source of minerals like iron and potassium while the antioxidants in the ginger make this a particularly healthy beverage round the year. It’s also a ‘refreshing’ change from a conventional lemonade, especially if you like that occasional sugar rush.
Panakam Recipe (Serves 4)
- Jaggery – 150 gms
- Water – 600 ml (three glasses)
- Juice of three lemons (medium size)
- Dry ginger powder – half teaspoon (can be substituted with crushed ginger)
- A pinch of cooking camphor (optional)
- Soak jaggery in the water till it melts completely
- Filter the water to remove any particles
- Add the lemon juice
- Add the powders and stir well
- Although it is refreshing at room temperature, it tastes even better when chilled.
- While it’s okay to substitute jaggery with palm sugar, the drink doesn’t work with sugar instead of jaggery.
- It’s not uncommon to use tamarind extract instead of lemon juice.
Panakam also makes for a great ingredient for refreshing summer cocktails and mocktails. I’ve found that the sweetness of jaggery works particularly well with Bourbon whiskies and honey liqueurs crafted with American whiskey.
Panakam Cocktail Recipe
- American Whiskey: 30 ml
- Honey liqueur: 30 ml
- Panakam: 100 ml
- Ginger ale: 50 ml (optional)
- Juice of half a lemon
Bring these ingredients together with ice in a cocktail shaker
So what are you waiting for? Beat the heat with this refreshing summer cooler!