Fennel Cardamom Sherbet (Saunf ka Sharbat)

La canicule, the heatwave, has reached Brussels, with temperatures in the city these days exceeding those of Delhi. Unlike in India, life in Belgium is not designed for a hot climate. Air conditioners are a rare item in most households. The buildings trap heat. The large windows turn apartments into greenhouses. Last night I was dreaming that I was sleeping on the edge of an exploding volcano. It might as well have been our bedroom.

Trying to retain sanity in this heat, I turned to classical Delhi remedies. Since escaping to the cool mountain resorts in Darjeeling wasn’t in the cards, I made a refreshing fennel seed sherbet, saunf ka sharbat.

Sherbet is a cold drink of Persian origins, and Mughal era books are full of recipes for different kinds of sherbets–rose, saffron, fruit or tamarind. One makes a syrup concentrate with the selected ingredients and sugar and then dilutes a small amount in iced water. More complicated recipes call for several concentrates and infusions of jasmine or rose petals, but even the basic idea produces a delicious drink.

Delicious though sherbet is, it’s also a medicine of sorts. Both fennel and cardamom, for instance, are known in India as cooling spices that calm pain, aid digestion and reduce bloating. I was on board with this idea, and the Ayurvedic wisdom was the main reason why I decided to try making a fennel sherbet during the heatwave.

As soon as I simmered the spice infused water with sugar, I realized that I was already feeling more calm, refreshed and mentally balanced. The aroma–the sweet-icy verdancy of fennel, the lemon sharpness of cardamom and its metallic rose accent–was so inviting that I was tempted to dab the syrup on my wrists.

When I diluted the prepared concentrate in water with ice, I added rosewater and lemon slices to highlight the floral and citrus facets of the fragrance. It tasted refreshing and refined, worthy of a Mughal empress.

Fennel Sherbet (Saunf ka Sharbat)

Makes 2.5 cups

1/2 cup (50g) fennel seeds
20 cardamom pods
2 cups (500g) sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) water to soak spices
1 cup (250ml) water
Rosewater, lemon juice to garnish the sherbet

Cover fennel seeds and cardamom pods with water and soak for at least 2-3 hours (or in the fridge overnight). The soaking softens the spices and makes them fully release their flavor. Grind the soaked spices with their soaking liquid and an additional 1/2 cup of water in a food processor. Strain through a fine-mesh colander. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of water to the ground spices in the colander and strain again.

Mix the spice infused liquid with sugar in a medium-sized pot. Bring it to simmer on medium-low heat and stir to help sugar dissolve. Simmer until the syrup thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Take off the heat. Skim any foam that has risen to the surface. Cool.

To serve

Add 2 Tablespoons of syrup to a glass with ice cubes, add 1/2 teaspoon rosewater and lemon juice to taste. Top with 1 cup of water. You can change the proportions to suit your own taste. Or you can dilute a large portion and store it in the fridge for an instant refreshment.

Stored in a clean bottle in the fridge, the syrup concentrate can last for several months. Enjoy!

Other cool summer drinks: Melon Horchata :: Rhubarb Rose Sherbet :: Purple Basil Sherbet.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Rita: Must be very fragrant! I’ll try it this weekend. July 27, 2018 at 9:00am Reply

    • Victoria: It is! I love this combination. July 27, 2018 at 10:48am Reply

  • Hamamelis: It is 37 degrees here in the part of the Netherlands where I live…pfff! Worse than the heat is the drought ofcourse, many two and four legged suffer. So, any cooling drink will be welcome! Thank you for posting in this heat. Yesterday I put watermelon (and seeds) and strawberries in the blender, with a little bit of water. Easy and lovely! July 27, 2018 at 9:21am Reply

    • AndreaR: I was introduced to and fell in love with ginger tea, made with fresh ginger, on a recent trip to Netherlands. I brew a fresh pot of it every morning and now that it’s hot where I live, I add ice cubes and drink it iced throughout the day. It’s very refreshing. July 27, 2018 at 10:28am Reply

      • Victoria: I enjoy the taste of ginger too. In the winter I make a simple ginger-honey tea, which is perfect when one is on the verge of catching a cold. July 27, 2018 at 10:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Watermelon is always a good idea in this heat. I’ve been eating almost nothing else.

      The weather is very strange this summer. Frightening, really. July 27, 2018 at 10:50am Reply

      • zephyr: Hope it cools down for you soon. I can’t stand the heat and without AC or a good fan I’m useless. July 27, 2018 at 2:50pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m surviving on a combo of fan and my fennel sherbet. 🙂 July 30, 2018 at 9:15am Reply

  • Sandra: Yum!
    This sounds de-lish!
    I just am back from the library and put the Empress book on hold.

    For the summer I just do a simple rose syrup that I buy from the store and sparkling water and a few ice cubes.

    I am always thinking I should do something with mint, I have so much growing. July 27, 2018 at 9:40am Reply

    • AndreaR: I knew about rose water, but not rose syrup. i must try this drink. July 27, 2018 at 10:16am Reply

      • Victoria: My favorite rosewater brand, Mymoune, makes a very good rose syrup. July 27, 2018 at 10:53am Reply

        • AndreaR: Thank you! I was able to find this brand at the wonderful international market across the street:-) July 27, 2018 at 1:37pm Reply

          • Victoria: Ah, good! July 30, 2018 at 9:14am Reply

            • AndreaR: This is my new favorite drink. I had no idea that a beverage with rose syrup could be so refreshing. The store owner, from Beirut, and I had a lengthy discussion on the best way to prepare the drink. Food/drink discussions are a wonderful way to connect and I enjoyed the conversation as much as my new found drink.Mulberry syrup is next on my list. July 30, 2018 at 10:12am Reply

              • Victoria: Mulberry syrup is one of my favorite ingredients. You can use it in sweet or savory dishes, and I love it mixed with tahini to spread on bread. July 31, 2018 at 11:13am Reply

    • Victoria: You can also make a mint sherbet. You only have to use mint instead of spices. I’d grind it with some water, strain it and then cook it with sugar. This syrup can be your concentrate and then you can add water and lemon juice to taste. Or you can always make a simple mint tea, add orange blossom water and ice it.

      You’ll enjoy Empress! July 27, 2018 at 10:52am Reply

      • Sandra: Thank you, I will give this mint sherbet a try

        Mymoune is also my favorite brand! July 27, 2018 at 5:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also remembered a great Syrian drink called Polo. Blend mint leaves and lemon juice together. Add water and sugar to taste. July 30, 2018 at 9:19am Reply

          • Sandra: sounds refreshing..
            Now I have some ideas of what to do with all this mint I have July 30, 2018 at 11:51am Reply

            • Victoria: You can also dry it, of course, but all of these ideas might be more interesting. July 31, 2018 at 11:16am Reply

  • AndreaR: It’s hot here the the Pacific Northwest too, so this drink sounds lovely. I’ve also just ordered a pattern to sew a caftan to help beat the heat:-) July 27, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve been wearing my Indian clothes at home. Anything else feels too oppressive. July 27, 2018 at 10:53am Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for this – conditions here in England sound similar to those in Belgium, so the idea of a cooling drink is very attractive right now! Will have to make some (if I can bear to go near the stove, that is…). The recipe sounds really delicious, I love fennel, seeds, bulb, fronds & all. July 27, 2018 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: My MIL says that fennel cools down the body, and the drink certainly feels refreshing. The good thing is that cooking the concentrate takes no effort on your part. Just let it thicken a little and it’s ready.

      I’m now thinking of making a simple fennel soup and put it on ice. July 27, 2018 at 10:55am Reply

      • Figuier: Funny that’s it’s one of your MIL’s recipes – my own MIL is the one who has provided me with the bags of home-grown fennel-seed that stoked my enthusiasm for the spice. She envisaged me using it as a hot drink (tea), not a cold one! July 27, 2018 at 3:27pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also add fennel seeds to chai. Another great pairing is tomato and fennel. Fennel makes tomatoes taste more intense. July 30, 2018 at 9:18am Reply

  • Gunilla: This sounds lovely. I’m reading the Empress right now.
    A cool cucumber soup with cucumber, sour cream, dill and mint plus salt is wonderful in the heat. July 27, 2018 at 11:32am Reply

    • Victoria: The cucumber soup sounds wonderful too, and the best part is that it needs no cooking. I also make a Bulgarian version, which include walnuts, summer savory and a bit of garlic. July 27, 2018 at 11:49am Reply

    • zephyr: I make this, too, and we all love it! It can be hot, too; I don’t use mint then. July 27, 2018 at 2:48pm Reply

    • AndreaR: Who is the author of Empress? July 27, 2018 at 6:24pm Reply

      • Victoria: Ruby Lal. July 30, 2018 at 9:19am Reply

        • AndreaR: Thank you! July 30, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

  • Severine: You sound like me last fall. I was so tired of continuous weak immune system and bloated stomach that I ‘invented’ a tea to fix it.
    This summer I am faring no better than you without my table fan. You recommend cucumber ice cream. July 27, 2018 at 1:28pm Reply

    • Severine: I recommend cucumber ice cream I mean to say. July 27, 2018 at 1:29pm Reply

      • Victoria: I keep thinking of getting an ice cream maker, but my freezer is no bigger than a shoebox. That being said, I wonder what cucumber ice cream would taste like, melon perhaps? July 30, 2018 at 9:14am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s not that I don’t tolerate hot weather, but in Belgium, where nothing is designed for the 30C+ days, it’s miserable. There is very little A/C around here, even on the public transportation. July 30, 2018 at 9:13am Reply

  • Jeanne: The sherbet sounds wonderful!

    We’ve had ups and downs in our temperatures this summer, with many days in the nineties, interspersed with days in the seventies. Plus lots of hail. I hope you get a massive cold front in Brussels soon Victoria. July 27, 2018 at 3:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: It also sounds very strange–hot weather and hail.

      I can’t wait for the usual Belgian weather to return. July 30, 2018 at 9:17am Reply

  • Jennifer Marie Shaw: The sherbet sounds so perfect and amazing! Here in Portland, Oregon it has been in the 90 degree range (F) It has been a challenge cooking wise, but I made a roast chicken earlier this week,so that I have it for making some wonderful salads. I am looking forward to my peppers that are growing in small pots to be harvested. Cucumber soup sounds so wonderful! Perhaps I can make some sun tea with my morrocan mint tea tomorrow. July 27, 2018 at 4:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: My friends in Portland have also been complaining about the heat. Hope that it cools down soon, and meanwhile, our homegrown peppers sound delicious. July 30, 2018 at 9:18am Reply

  • Austenfan: On hot days like we had last week I sometimes contemplate a move further North. I’m not made for these temperatures.
    However, they do seem more difficult to deal with here than in the South of France where people adapt and city centres offer far more shade with all the narrow streets and narrow windows.
    Your recipe sounds delicious (as usual). I love fennel in food.
    I drink mostly cold perfumed green teas these days, and cold infusions. I got a number of the Jardins from the Palais des Thés and they are really good as a cold drink. I also enjoy making cold tisane (to be pronounced with a Poirot accent) with mint, tilleul and verveine. Very refreshing, and so easy to make. Just fill a jug with cold (filtered) water and add dried herbs or tea. Leave overnight in the fridge and you are done.

    I actually thought of you this week as temperatures continued to rise and I realised that you had returned to Brussels, it must be like an oven in your apartment, or indeed an erupting volcano 😉 . I hope things calm down a little weather wise as all this heat is indeed frightening. July 28, 2018 at 5:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s been infernal inside the salon/kitchen. The bedroom and my office stay cool enough, unless, of course, it’s 37C outside.

      I was very curious about the cold-infusion tisane you mentioned and made it this weekend with linden and rose blossoms. It worked perfectly and I could taste more of the floral flavors than with the usual cold method. Thank you. It’s my new favorite way to enjoy herbal teas.

      Another addictive cold drink is Korean roasted barley or roasted corn tea. You have to boil the seeds in water to concentrate the flavors and then you chill the liquid. It tastes refreshing, and if you like roasted, nutty flavors, it will hit the spot. July 30, 2018 at 9:23am Reply

  • Toni Kennington: The fennel seed sherbet sounds wonderful!
    I will try it this weekend.
    We cool off in the summer with watermelon
    too. Watermelon lemonade is very popular. I like to make it with limes instead. Blend 1/2 medium watermelon, juice of 3 limes, and sugar to taste. July 28, 2018 at 4:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: The watermelon lemonade sounds so good. Thank you for sharing! July 30, 2018 at 9:24am Reply

      • maja: I usually add a pinch of salt to my daily watermelon and lime dose which is a staple during summer.
        The salt brings everything together.
        My mom’s elderflower syrup with huge slices of lemon is a must, too. This fennel one must be awesome, I will try to make a half recipe. Thanks! 🙂 August 4, 2018 at 11:25am Reply

  • Ingeborg: I will absolutely try this! Yesterday it really got too hot for me, with officially 34.6 degrees here in Oslo. The recor is 35, daring back to 1901!

    Living in an older brick building built for cold winters, it has seldom been less than 28 degrees indoors this summer,even after trying to get the slightly cooler night air in. Today we have had some torrential rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. By now I really wish for our more usual temperatures for the season! I even haven’t felt like baking anything, luckily frozen berries can be used later in the year. July 28, 2018 at 4:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Please stay cool! I feel for you. In our countries such weather is highly unusual, so it’s very uncomfortable right now. July 30, 2018 at 9:24am Reply

  • Aurora: The hot weather (more like 35 degrees though a little bit less than on the continent) has broken with thunderstorms. All the beautiful English lawns are yellow and sparse.
    I’m so glad the sherbet helped you and thank you so much for sharing, I especially love cardamom and as you describe its properties, maybe Voyage has helped me stand the heat. July 29, 2018 at 9:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Voyage is very refreshing in this weather. Another one I like Hermes Jardin Apres La Mousson. July 30, 2018 at 9:26am Reply

  • Vetiver: I love these sharbats, being Indian…. Rose is wonderful in a cocktail with gin, lemon juice, and club soda, as are sandalwood, vetiver, and khus. The woody ones: sandalwood, khus, almond, and vetiver, are superb in coffee. Kokum sharbat is great on a hot day just diluted per the instructions. September 20, 2018 at 7:45pm Reply

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