What could be more soothing than a chilled glass of buttermilk in summer? And it makes a great health drink too
The dog days are definitely here. And, just like a faithful dog, the searing heat and appalling humidity follow you everywhere, squeezing sweat from every pore, teasing your hair into a frizzy mess and making the collective mood crotchety. But, as if prickly heat and pongy toes weren't problem enough, there's that vexing trouble with most summer coolers — what's instantly refreshing, like ice cold water, is often also a prescription for a ghastly sore throat; packaged juice, on the other hand, is nourishing, but contains such vast quantities of sugar, that it's a short cut to disastrous weight gain. Frankly, you're left with few options… and not many are as safe a choice as buttermilk.
The perfect summer drink
Nimmi Ittycheria John, Nutritionist and Diet Consultant, says ancient Indian wisdom has always regarded buttermilk as a thirst quencher. “Affordability and easy availability make it the logical choice. And it scores over milk as it is a fermented form (of milk), rendering it easier to digest.”
It is this soothing, digestive property of buttermilk that makes it so popular in Suguna Mohan's household. “In summer, we prefer buttermilk over tea or coffee after breakfast,” she says. “I like to grind together green chilli, ginger, curry leaves with a little thick curd and then strain it with a sieve. I then add water, salt and asafoetida powder and top it off with ice cubes. When I have guests over, say, for a sumptuous lunch, I make a thicker version for curd rice, and they always ask for it to be served in a tumbler later!'
Octogenarian Kamala, who has been cooling off with buttermilk for several decades, says it's her preferred summer drink. “My doctor always advised me to drink plenty of it, to keep me from feeling tired. So I usually whisk up a large quantity of slightly watery buttermilk in the morning – adding fragrant curry leaves hand-crushed with rock salt and some asafoetida — and leave it on the dining table. It smells wonderful when I so much as open the lid; and whenever I felt thirsty, I have a drink; it really keeps me going.”
Its buttermilk's rejuvenating prowess that has made it so popular, especially in the ‘thaneer pandals' during temple festivals. Doled out from huge vessels, ‘neer more' (and its sweet cousin, ‘panagam') has people, particularly children, queuing up with beseeching eyes and 1-litre take-away bottles. And when the usual summer stomach bugs give you the runs, buttermilk is among the first things that's recommended to safely replenish fluids in the body.
“Buttermilk provides probiotics which are 'friendly' bacteria that help in maintaining beneficial bacteria in the intestines and warding away disease — causing microbes, therefore improving immunity. It is lower in fat and calories and higher on water than both milk and yoghurt. This makes it advantageous while weight watching and in replacing lost body fluids especially while convalescing,” says Nimmi.
But in Sheena's case, it was a simple case of having a ‘Thenali Raman cat' (allegedly scalded by hot milk and going off it for life) on her hands that made her turn to buttermilk. “Until she turned 6, my daughter fussed no end to drink her milk and used to run a mile when it was milk time. I was really at my wits end, as I was very worried about calcium deficit in the growing years. It was during a trip abroad that we found the answer to the problem — yoghurt drinks. My daughter loved the mild sweet and sour tang, and the interesting fruit flavours. When we got back, I got her started on buttermilk laced with salt and spices, south Indian style; and thankfully, she loved the savoury flavours too! It's also very handy to cart around, as it doesn't easily go ‘off' in the heat like milk.”
DRINK IT UP
Nimmi Ittycheria John, Nutritionist and Diet Consultant on buttermilk…
* The precise nutritional value of buttermilk depends on how much yoghurt is used to make it. Typically one-fourth to three-fourths cup of yoghurt is beaten up with water. The more the yoghurt, the higher its nutrient density.
* Buttermilk has traces of protein, calcium, phosphorus and B Vitamins but more significantly, it provides probiotics which are 'friendly' bacteria.
* Buttermilk is best had as a filler and/or thirst quencher between meals and as digestive at the end of an elaborate meal.
* The flavouring ingredients used around the country such as asafoetida, cumin, coriander leaves, ginger, black salt, small onions, curry leaves and sea salt further enhance its digestive, carminative and curative properties.