The season’s traditional drinks are more than just thirst-quenchers; they’re actually really good for you, too
By Noha Mohammed
After years of guzzling two glasses of any juice handy, usually before even getting started on iftar, I realized that since I wasn’t tasting what I was drinking, but merely quenching my thirst, I might as well do without the calories and simply stick to water.
I was also under the impression that the 8-10 cups of water a day was a rule of thumb. Little did I know, when I first started researching this piece, that for starters it is not a golden rule (as you can sometimes get away with much less, depending on your metabolism) and that you can get your daily intake from food.
But what really caught me by surprise was how good traditional Ramadan drinks are for anyone who is fasting. Not only are traditional drinks great thirst-quenchers, they also contain a slew of active ingredients to make up for any disruption caused by your new Ramadan diet.
An acquired taste, kharoub potentially reduces cholesterol, aids digestion and acts as an antioxidant. Pinitol, an active component of kharoub, has been shown to regulate blood glucose and is especially recommended for diabetics.
Qamar el-din (apricot juice)
The most traditional of Ramadan beverages, qamar el-din is made from dried apricot paste. the 11th-century physician and philosopher Ibn Sina (known in the Western world as Avicenna rightly praised dried apricots as thirst quenchers and antidotes to diarrhea. Qamar el-din aids indigestion, regulates metabolism and is packed with vitamins A, B and C, as well as calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorous. A perfect way to start iftar, it produces enough of a sugar rush to get the digestive system working without over-stimulating it. (Go easy on the sugar, though.) Qamar el-din can, surprisingly, soothe jumpy nerves and stress, so it’s great after a hard day at work. The strangest of its components? Folic acid, which helps fetuses grow; super for pregnant women.
Tamr hindi (tamarind)
This tropical fruit tree has one of the highest levels of carbohydrates and proteins found in any fruit. It is the perfect beverage for diabetics, as it regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It is also extremely rich in vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and is high in beta-carotene. Other essential minerals include potassium, phosphorous and calcium.
Did you know that a cup of hibiscus tea contains 17% citric acid and half as much vitamin C as an orange? Not surprisingly, it helps boost and strengthen the immune system, which can be put under considerable stress while fasting. Speaking of stress, hibiscus is also widely used to regulate blood pressure, which can fluctuate between low during fasting and high after iftar (due to the concentrated sugar intake).
Known in hot regions of the globe as an effective thirst-quencher, hibiscus reduces the buildup of fatty deposits in arteries and reduces blood cholesterol levels. Like cranberry juice, it is used in treating urinary tract infections and aids in regulating blood flow. Other properties in the herb help maintain the blood sugar balance in the body.
Laban rayeb (yogurt drink)
Today, laban rayeb is one of the most popular drinks in the Middle East. Recently, it has found its way to Egypt, where its intake is generally restricted to this time of the year. It’s a well-known fact that friendly bacteria found in live yogurt can aid in digestion, as well as help to clean the intestines and digestive tract, all of which can be necessary to treat an upset stomach after a few days of heavy iftars and sohours. Because it requires no added sugar, those watching their waistlines tend to prefer this creamy drink.
Erq sous (licorice)
Although not to everyone’s taste, licorice, which is better known in the form of candy than as a drink, is one of the most biologically active herbs known to man. Acting as an anti-inflammatory, it affects the immune, circulatory and respiratory systems. Essentially, licorice is a chronic fatigue combatant, mimicking the effects of natural hormones. As such, it fights off lethargy by causing fluid retention (which will make you feel less thirsty), raises blood pressure (which usually dips while fasting, due to lack of sugar intake) and combats potassium loss. Licorice is also used to soothe the stomach and as an effective cough suppressant. et