Come summers, and all you want is to sip large glasses of iced Lassi. The refreshing yoghurt beverage has gradually but steadily earned its place as one of the country’s most favourite desi drinks, both in terms of its health benefits and ease of preparation. Mainly originating in the regions of Punjab and Multan, Lassi draws its roots to 1000 BC.
The word ‘lassi’, as many claim, comes from the bowdlerisation of the Hindi word ‘rassila’, meaning juicy. Some even map it to the Sanskrit ‘rasah’ meaning taste or essence. The silky, icy blend is often a concoction of yoghurt, sugar, water, spices like cardamom and cinnamon, and fruits. Depending on its variant, many even add malai (the thickened milk layer) to it, to deepen the body of this otherwise watery drink. As per Hindu mythology, a mixture of yoghurt and honey was considered the ultimate offering to placate Gods and Goddesses. Many feel the Lassi is a mere conceptual successor of this. Chef Arun Chopra draws the origins of this drink to Pakistani food traditions of storing milk in clay pots. Since there weren’t options of refrigerating the milk in old days, workers and farmers would keep it in earthen pots to ensure it remains cool. After days, the milk would often curdle and turn into yoghurt. In order to make the sourness more palatable, sugar was added to it before consumption, hence giving rise to the Lassi variant.
History aside, the drink’s widespread acceptance across northern and southern regions of India is mostly because of its health benefits. As per the ancient science of Ayurveda, yoghurt or buttermilk has a calming effect on human digestive functions, which in turn keeps the mind peaceful. Lactic acid in the yoghurt works as a laxative too and ensures healthy bowel movement. The easy and economical availability of milk enhances the drink’s popularity further, making it one of the most-sold beverages across common roadside shacks as well as high-end restaurants.
The other variant of Lassi is Chaas or Chaach, widely available in Rajasthan and Gujarat. While Lassi can be heavy and creamy, Chaas is generally more watery and easy on the stomach. In Punjabi cuisine (richly decorated with butter and ghee-inclined dishes) this drink is generally consumed after a sumptuous lunch as it functions as the perfect digestive.