With summer almost upon us, it’s all about hydration. And with this essential need to hydrate, come the gazillion stories about how colas are bad for health. Cola companies, on their part, always strike back with expensive ad campaigns, starring hot celebrities, which cost as much as small-budget films to entice you with their product’s ‘refreshing’ qualities. While living around Atlanta, or the Coca-Cola city, I happened to visit the Coke museum and it was one of the most fascinating tours I have ever undertaken. The secret recipe of Coca-Cola is guarded as one would presumably guard the elixir of life. The recipe is a closely-held secret and yet, if memory serves me right, they tantalise you, explaining how Coke tastes differently in different parts of the world. So is it just one recipe or more than one? It’s a common trick in the food and beverage trade: the nicest chef will leave out an essential ingredient or twist in the preparation of a dish in order to ensure that no one else can quite do it the way he or she can. It comes with the territory.
But I am digressing. In these hot summer months, the most refreshing drink is quite easily water. Sure, coconut water scores high, but often, it is hard to find quite the right coconut. Although tetra packs have made coconut water more accessible, there isn’t quite anything like the ‘real’ thing. Packaged juices, or even freshly squeezed ones, are also recommended, but with all those diet tips—“eat fruits whole to preserve their nutrients”—more than one nutritionist will turn up their nose at juice. Others will issue dire warnings about the sugar level and glycemic index of a juice. Phew! It is exhausting to make a sensible choice when it comes to hydrating oneself in summer.
Last year, I wrote of the nutritional and cooling properties of buttermilk, which is drunk just like that, as well as used in Ayurveda for treatments for distressing. It is an indigenous drink that—in these ‘probiotic’ times—can be ingested, as well as used for a purely external purpose.
However, water still remains the easiest option. But in these times of epicuriosity, there is no such thing as plain, simple drinking water. Your grandmother’s suggestion of storing and drinking water from copper vessels is still very good—in fact, one can find beautiful renditions of the traditional urn right down to bedside table miniatures (try Good Earth). However, what’s really working internationally right now is ‘exotic water’. Vitamin waters are a little last decade; now, it’s all about water that owes its provenance to the unusual and comes with health benefits.
Take, for example, ‘maple water’, the recent hot trend. Maple water is extracted from the sap of the maple tree—one may be forgiven for thinking that all that comes from the maple tree is maple syrup, the gooey ocean of goodness we like to drown our pancakes in, which is a consequence of the sap being boiled. Some water companies in the US have decided to sell the pasteurised version of the extraction as ‘water’.
Predictably, maple water, which sells for $3 a pop, boasts a slew of health benefits, including anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as per manufactures. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But things in our complicated times are never that easy. While maple water is a healthier choice than, say, a Cola, there are counter claims that it isn’t quite as healthy as it is made out to be. Spoilsports! But then who would expect anything else in these contentious times of organic versus natural versus processed? Every thing has a list of benefits and an equally long laundry list of ‘issues’ or ‘so-so’ properties that don’t justify the extra change you will drop. In maple water’s case, it is said it doesn’t contain enough calcium and iron, and its claim as a ‘super food’ may be contested. Also, since maple water sets itself up as an alternative to water, it must be shared here that it contains more sugar (three-four gm per serving) as opposed to water, which contains zero sugar. So what was this whole digression about? It’s really quite simple. There isn’t quite anything like plain ol’ water in summer. Fads will come and go, but the thirst-quenching properties of water—boring as it may be—remain eternal.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad