I Tried 'Indian Gatorade' & It's My New Favorite Summer Hydrator
I first read about "shikanji" in food writer Priya Krishna's fabulous new cookbook, Indian-ish. "Shikanji is the standard summertime drink that my mom's family in India used to serve guests in lieu of soda," Krishna writes. My friend, who lives in Delhi, confirmed the drink's ubiquity. "You see stalls selling it everywhere in the summer," she says. "It's the go-to summer drink."
The ingredients in Krishna's version were simple but intriguing: a blend of lime juice, salt, pepper, and sugar. A quick online exploration found that several variations existed—lemon juice is often used instead of lime, ginger is utilized more often than not, and saffron and cumin are occasionally added for extra flavor.
As someone who struggles to drink unflavored—read: boring—water, I was keen to try it out. In the winter, caffeine-free tea is my go-to. I sip a dozen different types throughout the day, partly for the health benefits but primarily to alleviate hydration tedium. While I keep up much of the same routine in the summer, leaning on the Middle Eastern notion that hot beverages are great for keeping oneself cool, there's little refreshing about a warm cuppa.
Shikanji, on the other hand, sounded nothing but refreshing. Plus, there are real health benefits. "Sea salt adds electrolytes like sodium and chloride—both of which play an important role in cell signaling to support healthy muscle and nerve function and support stable blood pressure," says Jessica Cording, R.D., mbg Collective member and founder of Jessica Cording Nutrition.
Even the sodium itself has benefits. "We usually think of sodium as a bad thing, but we actually do need some for normal functioning, so when we don't take in enough or lose a lot (like when we sweat it out or our levels get depleted), that can have a negative impact," Cording explains. "Because it hasn't been refined, sea salt may also contain important trace minerals like iron, potassium (another electrolyte), and zinc." Beyond the salt, limes and lemons are rich in vitamin C, which can help fight inflammation in the skin (such as that caused by a sunburn), and ginger is a known stomach-soother. Basically, shikanji is the perfect summer drink.
I decided to try it myself, using Krishna's recipe as a base. She uses the juice of 6 limes, ¼ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper, ¼ cup of granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1 cup of ice cubes, all blended until foamy with 2 cups of water. I subbed the granulated sugar for unrefined honey, and swapped the kosher salt for mineral-rich Himalayan salt for even more electrolytes, as noted by Cording. I also added in a peeled 1-inch chunk of ginger and a pinch of saffron, per a number of the recipes I found online (if you have a less-than-powerful blender, I recommend microplaning the ginger before blending).
I eyed the drink nervously—it was a lot of salt and pepper—before tentatively taking a sip. I needn't have worried. The flavor was bright, punchy, zesty, and with the salt and pepper sticking to a subtle, rounding background note. It tasted, in a word, quenching, like it was hydrating my body at a cellular level. It was also just plain delicious, like the sports drinks of my teenage years (Krishna's dad calls it "Indian Gatorade") without all of the artificial colors or flavors.
Shikanji has become a new staple in my summer days. Because vitamin C degrades fairly quickly, I don't make big batches in advance. To knock off prep time and add more fiber, I just quickly cut the skin off the lime before blending the entire flesh, no juicing required. In less than five minutes, I have the perfect summer drink (and yes, if you're thinking this sounds like a great mixer, this can definitely be blended with a bit of vodka!).