Monday, August 09, 2021

Honey in the Beverages of India

In the last post, we explored the traditional uses of honey across India. During my research for that, I found lots of references to the use of honey in beverages. We have a whole repertoire of drinks that call for the use of honey as a natural sweetener, an energizer, a coolant and more, going back to ancient times. It seems that our thirst for honey-based beverages has been around for a long, long time.

Honey is first mentioned in the Rigveda, one of the earliest literary documents, dating back to the Vedic Civilisation (1500-500 BC). At the time, sugar was unknown, and honey and sweet fruit were primary sweeteners. The Rig Veda advises that those who consume honey would become strong, rich, happy and wise. Sweet advice, in my opinion!

Sushrutha, an ancient surgeon and author of the Sushrutha Samhita of 6th Century BCE, and Charaka, a physician and author of the Charaka Samhita of the 2nd to 4th Century BC both wrote in detail on honey and recorded more than eight varieties with specific health benefits. They also laid great stress on seasonal diets, subscribing to the idea that the digestive fire is at its strongest in winter, lowest during the summer and monsoons, and intermediate in the remaining three seasons India experiences. And honey was primarily recommended for consumption in the rainy season when digestion was at its weakest and infections were rife.

There are many other suggestions for particular ailments to be found in Sushruta’s text, including one suspension of parched barley or rice in water, sweetened with honey or jaggery for treating loss of appetite, debility and thirst - a practice we still see today in the form of the present-day fermented rice gruels such as Pakhala of Odisha, Panta Bhaat of Bengal and Poita Bhat of Assam.

While beverages are typically associated with cool drinks in the summer, the vast repository of warm drinks for the monsoons, are often overlooked. With the monsoons here, it seems the perfect time to consider the many hot honey-based beverages we have in our culinary heritage.

In fact, the proverbial ‘spoonful of sugar’ should be changed to one of honey because honey's sweetening and health-giving properties continue to keep it as the popular choice, for medicinal beverages along with herbs and spices such as pepper, turmeric, tulsi and more.  Ayurveda also specifically recommends the consumption of honey in the rainy season. And it has been the traditional sweetener in a variety of kaadhas and kashayams along with specific spice and herb combinations.

Shiva Tattva Ratnakara, purportedly the first-ever encyclopedia of the world in any language, written in Sanskrit and produced by Keladi King Basava Bhupala who ruled in the Keladi-Bidanur dynasty from 1697 A.D. to 1714 A.D, shares information on a milk-based drink (which sounds similar to kadha hua doodh) containing honey and saffron was served to kings of the time at the end of their meal. And it is no wonder that royal meals ended with a dose of honey. Not only was honey a highly prized sweetener for its health benefits, but it was also considered superior to the available alternatives of jaggery, molasses and much later, sugar.

Beverages are an important part of any celebration. More so in India, which is hot and humid in many regions. Feasts and festivals in particular are occasions to indulge and as we saw in the previous post, they were also a way to imbue practices of medicinal foods to keep people healthy through the vagaries of the seasons. A vast repertoire of easily mixed and brewed beverages for large gatherings exist in Indian cuisine including scented and flavoured waters, fruit juices, sweetened liquids and even ancient "mocktails'' of various liquids mixed together. 

One such mocktail of ancient times was Panchamrutha—not to be confused with the Panchamrit of today, a mixture used in poojas as described in the last post. The Panchamruta of yore was a drink made by combining five amruts or necters: three fruit juices (of sweet fruits like mango and grape and sour ones like the gooseberry, tamarind, jamoon and phalsa) mixed with honey and water. This is in fact the origin of the globally popular Punch, with its alcoholic, non-alcoholic and milk-based renditions.

From traditional beverages like haldi doodh, kaadhas, kashayams, teas and tisanes, for its medicinal properties, to more recently popularised drinks like milkshakes and smoothies, even today honey remains a popular sweetener in beverages. Its endless uses continue to fascinate and excite me! But for now, I’m busy rediscovering the joys of the Panchamrutha of old. Give it a try yourself using the recipe below.

Spiced Honey Punch inspired by the Punchamrutha of old


  • 1 litre water
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup 100% Pure Saffola honey
  • 2 Cinnamon sticks
  • 12 Cloves
  • 2 Star anise
  • 1 blade Mace 
  • 3 tbsp Ginger juice 


  1. Combine everything, except lemon juice and honey in a large cooking pot. Heat through on a low flame but do not boil. 
  2. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes so the spices infuse into the liquid. 
  3. Take off flame, strain and then add honey and lemon juice. Taste and adjust flavours. 
  4. Serve hot in the monsoons or winter and chilled in the summer.


This recipe using Honey is sponsored by Saffola Honey.  All the recent news about the adulteration of honey had me worried. Especially the part about added sugar as an adulterant. Post some research and talking to experts and otherwise, I finally zeroed in on Saffola Honey for daily use because it's tested using FSSAI parameters as well as NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test and has been proven to be free of any adulteration and specifically has no added sugar. This series of recipes with Honey are sponsored by Saffola Honey.


Achaya, K. (2003). The History of Our Food. Universities Press.

Sundaram, V. (n.d.). First Ever Encyclopedia of the world is not in English but in Sanskrit . Retrieved from A homage to Hindu civilization.:

DR. Kshirsagar, K. K. (n.d.). Bees and Honey In Ancient India. Retrieved from Ancient Indian Wisdom. (n.d.). A 4-Round Bout with 'Punch'. Retrieved from

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