Rooh Afza is a concentrated squash syrup that has been popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for over a century. It is known for its sweet, floral taste and reddish-purple color. Rooh Afza is especially popular during the hot summer months as a refreshing and hydrating drink.
Some quick facts about Rooh Afza:
- Rooh Afza means “refreshing to the soul” in Urdu.
- It was created in 1907 by Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed, a traditional Unani medicine practitioner in Old Delhi, India.
- The original formula contained extracts of up to 13 flowers, herbs and vegetables.
- Today, there are several variants produced by different companies, usually containing 3-5 key ingredients.
- The characteristic color comes from extracts of rose, pandan, carrot and spinach leaves.
Now let’s look at Rooh Afza in more detail.
History and Origins
As mentioned, Rooh Afza was developed in 1907 by Hakim Abdul Majeed. He practiced Unani medicine, a traditional system of healing in South Asia that utilizes herbal remedies.
At the time, Delhi saw extremely hot summers. Majeed wanted to create a cooling syrup that could provide relief from the heat. He used his knowledge of traditional herbs and medicinal plants to develop the original Rooh Afza formulation.
It contained extracts of 13 ingredients:
- Bael fruit
- Coriander leaves
This combination created a concentrated, syrupy liquid that was dark purple in color. It was rich in antioxidants and cooling properties.
Majeed named his creation Rooh Afza, which means “refreshing to the soul” in Urdu. It quickly became popular in Old Delhi as a refreshing summer drink. By 1947, demand had grown enough that the Majeed family established a factory to produce Rooh Afza commercially.
After the Partition of India in 1947, the family migrated to Pakistan. The syrup continued being manufactured in both countries. Today there are several companies producing Rooh Afza in India and Pakistan. The Majeed family, through their company Hamdard Laboratories, remains the main manufacturer in Pakistan.
The original Rooh Afza contained 13 ingredients, but most modern versions contain just 3-5 key components. These include:
- Rose Extract: Providing signature flavor and fragrance.
- Pandan: Pandanus fascicularis leaf extract. Also called screw pine. Provides color and cooling sensation.
- Carrot Seed: Cold pressed Daucus carota seed oil. Adds flavor.
- Spinach: Spinacia oleracea extract. Provides dark green color.
- Citric Acid: For tartness.
Other medicinal herbs and flowers may be included as well, depending on the manufacturer. The exact recipes are usually trade secrets.
The key ingredients like rose and pandan provide the floral aroma, refreshing taste, and purple color that makes Rooh Afza so recognizable. The carrots and spinach provide carotenoids for rich, natural color. Citric acid gives it tartness to balance the sweetness.
Rooh Afza is a concentrated syrup, so it is very high in sugar. The main nutrient contributions are:
|Nutrient||Per 100 ml|
|Total carbohydrates||70-85 g|
A 30 ml (2 tablespoon) serving would provide about 20-25 grams of sugar and 80-100 calories.
The sweetener used is sucrose (table sugar). Some variants may also contain small amounts of artificial sweeteners.
When prepared as a drink, Rooh Afza provides hydration mainly in the form of water. It also contains trace amounts of vitamin C, carotenoids, and antioxidants from the flower and vegetable extracts. However the nutritional impact is quite minimal given the small serving sizes.
Overall, Rooh Afza should be seen as a flavored syrup to add taste, not significant nutrition, to drinks and desserts. Moderation is advisable given the high sugar content.
Rooh Afza Variants
Rooh Afza is produced by several companies in South Asia. The most popular variants include:
- Rooh Afza by Hamdard (Pakistan): The original product from the Majeed family. Comes in distinctive squat glass bottle. Market leader in Pakistan.
- Rooh Afza by HMIS (India): Produced by Hamdard India after partition. Sold in tall glass bottles. Most popular in India.
- Ira: Produced by Aurangzeb Chemical Company in Pakistan. More affordable option.
- O Rose: Produced by Ahmed Tea. Positioned as a premium Rooh Afza alternative.
There are also several other less popular brands. However, Rooh Afza by Hamdard and HMIS dominate the market in their respective countries.
The basic ingredients are comparable between brands, with minor variations in formula and inclusion of different extracts. Consumers tend to be most familiar and comfortable with the classic Hamdard Rooh Afza flavor profile.
The characteristic flavor of Rooh Afza is sweet and floral. It is a complex taste, but the main flavor notes are:
- Pandan leaf
The rose oils provide a distinctly flowery aroma and taste. Pandan adds sweet grassiness. Carrot gives rich depth and body. Citrus oils and citric acid bring a tart crispness that balances out the sweetness.
The result is a syrupy liquid that is intensely floral, a little grassy, mildly vegetal, and with a distinct tartness to complement the sugar. This unique flavor profile has made Rooh Afza popular for over a century now.
Modern versions vary somewhat based on the exact formula. Premium brands like Hamdard pride themselves on maintaining the same complex flavor through using sufficient quantities of the core ingredients. Cheaper brands tend to have simpler formulas with stronger citric acid taste dominating.
Rooh Afza gets its rich reddish-purple hue from two key ingredients:
- Pandan leaf extract: Pandanus fascicularis contains chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments called pandanin and carotene-glycoside that provide green and orange hues.
- Spinach extract: Spinacea oleracea is very high in lutein and beta carotene pigments that lend dark green, orange, and red colors.
Modern Rooh Afza variants use food colors too for color standardization. The characteristic color is meant to look natural yet be consistent across batches. Diluted, the drink takes on a lighter pinkish tone.
The color is part of the nostalgic appeal and recognizability of Rooh Afza. It adds to the sensory experience. The deep hue also hints at the natural ingredients used.
Rooh Afza has an overtly sweet taste, since sugar is the main ingredient. At 70-80% sugar by volume, a 30 ml serving would contain over 20 grams.
The sweetness is tempered by the tartness from citric acid. So the overall effect is syrupy sweet up front, with a slightly sourcitrus aftertaste.
The floral notes come through in the aroma and aftertaste as well. The taste buds detect the rose oils, aromatic pandan, and grassy hints of carrot and spinach underlying the sugar, tartness, and fruity citrus layers.
The concentration of the syrup means the flavors are very intense. When diluted 5-10 times in water, milk or ice, the sweetness drops down to make it a drinkable beverage.
Again, premium brands tend to have a more balanced, complex and nuanced taste. Cheaper variants can taste cloyingly sweet and artificially colored. Getting the authentic, natural-tasting Rooh Afza flavor requires carefully sourcing and blending the ingredients.
Use in Beverages
The most popular use of Rooh Afza syrup is to flavor cold summer drinks and milkshakes. The syrup is typically mixed in the following proportions:
- 1 part Rooh Afza to 5-10 parts water
- 1 part Rooh Afza to 4-5 parts milk
- A few tablespoons Rooh Afza in a glass of ice water or iced tea
These ratios dilute the concentrated syrup to make a pleasantly sweet and tart drink. The floral aroma and pretty color remain pronounced.
Rooh Afza adds its signature flavor, sweetness, and light pink hue to classics like:
- Rooh Afza sharbat – mixed with water
- Rooh Afza milkshake – mixed with milk
- Rooh Afza lassi – added to lassi
- Rooh Afza koktail – added to fruit juices and sodas
- Rooh Afza ice pops – mixed into popsicles
It is also commonly added to desserts like falooda and kheer to add flavor, color and perceived cooling properties.
A simple way to drink Rooh Afza is adding 2-3 tablespoons per glass of chilled water. This makes a light hydrating summer drink. Ice cubes can be added for extra refreshment.
For milkshakes, the syrup is mixed with cold milk in a blender or whisked briskly. Ice cream can also be added to make thick milkshakes. Rose syrup pairs especially well with mango, banana, apple, berries and citrus flavors.
Rooh Afza sharbat and milkshakes are staple drinks for people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh during the summer. They provide hydration and a sense of cooling while being richly flavored and nourishing.
Besides beverages, Rooh Afza syrup can add its signature flavor, fragrance and color to many desserts and sweets. It is commonly used in:
- Falooda – added to the milk layer
- Kulfi – flavored into traditional Indian ice cream
- Ras malai – flavoring milk cakes
- Gajar ka halwa – carrot pudding
- Phirni – flavored into rice pudding
- Kheer – mixed into sweetened milk puddings
- Custards and ice creams
A few tablespoons are sufficient to provide pronounced rosy floral and pandan flavors. The enticing color also helps enhance visual appeal.
Rooh Afza pairs well with creamy desserts, rice puddings, chickpea flour desserts, bread puddings, fruit salads and compotes. Just a dash in the recipe lends appetizing color andparentNode flavor.
It can also be swirled into yogurt raita drinks like lassi and doi to make them more refreshing. The syrup is used to flavor traditional sweets like halwa, kheer, rasgulla and burfi for festive occasions.
Beyond Indian subcontinental cuisine, rose syrup can be used to flavor milkshakes, yogurt smoothies, summer lemonades and fruit salads globally too.
In traditional Unani and Ayurvedic medicine, Rooh Afza is believed to have cooling properties that help beat the summer heat. The ingredients rose, pandan, spinach and carrot are thought to have these benefits:
- Cools and replenishes fluids and electrolytes
- Provides antioxidants
- Reduces body temperature and prevents prickly heat
- Prevents dehydration
- Nourishes and soothes the throat
Modern nutrition science does confirm some of these benefits. The water and sugar in Rooh Afza syrup helps with rehydration. The flower extracts offer traces of antioxidant phenolics. Pandan, spinach and carrots add carotenoids. So it does provide some nutritive value.
However, the quantities used are too small for major health benefits. The floral phytochemicals are also not present in high enough amounts. But they contribute fragrance, taste and perceived cooling.
For the most part, Rooh Afza is viewed more as a refreshing and invigorating summer drink rather than a medicinal tonic. But its time-tested formula and benefits like antioxidants from rose oil lend it an aura of traditional healthfulness.
Culture and Tradition
Rooh Afza holds a special place in Indian and Pakistani culture. For generations it has been the iconic summer drink, reminiscent of childhood and tradition.
Its history goes back over a hundred years. Many consumers today first had Rooh Afza drinks made by their parents or grandparents. So it evokes fond memories of family and home.
The syrup is especially beloved for celebrating Ramzan. It is used to flavor traditional sherbets and milk drinks that are served when breaking the fast. Rooh Afza consumption spikes during this holy month.
It is also an essential part of festivals like Holi, Eid andDiwali. The drinks form part of holiday spreads and celebration menus.
With its delicate rose fragrance, rich purple hue and unique taste, Rooh Afza is the quintessential South Asian syrup. Its strong cultural connections make it an integral part of Pakistani and Indian cuisine and heritage. For the diaspora abroad too, it represents nostalgia and tradition.
Where to Buy
Rooh Afza is widely available in local supermarkets and South Asian grocery stores in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. International food sections in North America, the UK, and Australia also stock it to cater to expat populations.
Online shopping gives easiest access for overseas customers. Major e-commerce platforms like Amazon sell various Rooh Afza variants. South Asian grocery chains also list it on their websites.
Prices range from $3-5 for 250 ml bottles up to $15-20 for 1 L, depending on brand and source. Hamdard Rooh Afza from Pakistan and HMIS Rooh Afza made in India remain the most popular and authentic choices.
When buying, check the ingredients list for key components like rose extract, pandan, carrot and spinach. Also look at the sugar content. Authentic brands contain 60-80% sugar. Avoid options with artificial colors and excessive citric acid.
The syrup has a long shelf life of 12-18 months. It does not require refrigeration before opening. Store bottles in a cool dark place after opening for maximum freshness and flavor.
Rooh Afza is a legendary floral syrup in South Asian cuisine and culture. It has been cooling and delighting generations for over a century with its sweet yet tart rose and pandan flavor. The natural extracts and colors, high sugar content, versatility and nostalgic appeal make it a staple drink and recipe addition. While the medicinal benefits are limited, Rooh Afza is a safe and delicious way to hydrate and sweeten foods and beverages for kids and adults alike. A bottle in the pantry unlocks a world of traditional subcontinental drinks and desserts.