'Sour'ing High

From Kanji to Thekara Pani to Wine, find out why this summer they make more sense than just plain water.

By Madhulika Dash; Pictures courtesy: and Terra Incognita

Come Summers, and legacy blogger Geeta Dutta begins working on refilling her jars with ingredients that guarantee her a coolant-in-reach every time humidity and sun decide to call for a duel. Her choice of Glucon D is Thekara or Garcinia pedunculata pani. Also called the Assamese cousin of the purple mangosteen, this inherently sweet sour tasting souring agent is as important flavorant in Assamese cuisine. For Geeta, a doctor herself, it is key to one of the best summer drinks that not just ups the pH level of the body and replenishes the salt content but also takes care of the gut. In taste, adds Geeta, “it has this sweet, sour almost Umami kind of flavours that works as salve to a palate that is constantly looking for a fruity, citrusy lightness. In fact, a chilled glass of thekara is my go-to rehydration during summers and it is as simple as soaking the dried segments of the fruit and then squeezing the juice off it.”

Fascinatingly, Geeta isn’t alone in her pursuit of finding the heat’s antidote in fermented drinks like kanji, wine or panna, Odia culinary custodian Alka Jena (CulinaryXpress) too  is a big fan of fermented kanjis, especially ones that use torani or whey as their base, to fight the draining heat of the summers. The thing about kanji, says Jena, “is that it is extremely palate rejuvenating and cooling – and this in spite of the use of chillies or spices in it. And one can feel the acidity and temperature inside, which is usually the result of high humidity in Odisha and North East, calming down. In addition to that, it is also great for the upkeep of the gut, which manages the digestive engine of the body.”

However, she continues, one of the most fascinating things of these fermented drinks is the palate detox. Suddenly, you begin to have taste in your mouth, which falls an easy prey to the rising heat. Concurs Naga food specialist Prescilla Zinyu (Terra Incognita), who finds the solace in wine made in-home with fruits and vegetables that are available in abundance. Her current favourite is gooseberry or amla. The reason behind, says Zinyu, “isn’t just the generous availability of the fruit, it is also the taste. Amla are acutely sour at times and not something you can have readily or whenever the craving of something citrusy arises. A good option then is the Naga style wine making through fermenting the fruit with sugar and yeast.”

While the sugar, continues the hobby horticulturist, “helps the process of fermentation faster, even balancing the sweetness of the gooseberry, the yeast helps enhance the flavour of the wine (recipe below). Together when matured for over a month or so under controlled temperature produces a heady drink that is sweet and heady replete with the good nutrients of the gooseberry.”

The process is also followed in north of India, where the last crop of black carrot along with red are converted into a well spiced and seasoned Kanji that helps fight the many issues of a changing climate and heat. Which brings us to the question as to how fermented drinks, especially Kanji, score on a Sikanjvi or a Bael Panna that are also known for such curative properties. Explains nutritional therapist Shveta Bhasin, “when we talk about fermentation, we are talking about a level high on food breakdown, where the sugar is further concentrated and then broken into easily soluble parts that can result in instant surge of energy. Plus, there is a release of gut friendly micro-organism and nutrients including Vitamin B12. All of these together not only work towards resetting agni, which is at a low level thanks to the heat and sedentary lifestyle, but also repair the gut off any inflammation while bringing the balance of good bacteria of the gut to normal. A process also called the happy stomach. Fermented drinks also aid in resetting the pH level in the body along with re-arranging the palate structure to enjoy subtle flavoured food better.”

One of the many reasons that Kanji, which gets its name from Kanjeeviyami, an array of fermented drinks designed by the diktat of Shukta Kalpana, was considered as the best treatment for a healthy body and mind, given that it could realign the Kapha-Vatta- Pitta. A kind of balancing which in nutritional parlance is defined under ‘holistic wellnesses.”

No surprise that nutritional therapist like Bhasin often advices half of the water intake – which can be 12-15 glasses of water depending on ones activity and sweating ability – to be in some form of fermented drink.

Gooseberry Wine By Prescilla Zinyu


Gooseberry: 1kg

Sugar: 1cup

Yeast: 1 tbsp

Water: 4-5 litre


Wash and cloth dry Gooseberries and place them in a ceramic jar, fill it up with warm water and add the rest of the ingredients. Remember to keep stirring till the sugar gets dissolved. Cover the mouth with a cloth or a tight lid. Let the jar sit in a cool dry place for fermentation for at least a month to one and half month.  Maintain the temperature at about 18 degree Celsius as it ferments gradually. Stir the conent of the If the water gets frothy too soon, it needs replacement. As the sugar in the Gooseberry concentrates the alcohol content will increase significantly giving it that distinct sour-sweet aroma. Once that aroma starts to emanate, it is all about taste. The highest alcohol content for such wines would be about 10% . Mix well, strain and it is ready for consumption.