What Is Rooh Afza And What Does It Taste Like?

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Dr Pepper's 23 flavors have nothing on Rooh Afza. The ruby-red beverage has lots of sugar, like Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew, and other American sodas, but that's about the only similarity.

Rooh Afza is a concoction of 13 herbs invented in India in 1906, and it became a staple in Pakistan and Bangladesh, too, as the Indian subcontinent experienced one political division after another (via Taste). Maybe Rooh Afza does have one other thing in common with American soft drinks: It's billed as a cold, refreshing way to beat the summer heat.

What does Rooh Afza taste like? Untrained American palates might not be able to discern why the drink has such broad appeal in south Asia. One Amazon reviewer likened it to cough syrup. Other reviewers on the site thought the drink was sickly sweet or had a bad aftertaste.

But for people who grew up in India or Pakistan, it tastes like "the embrace of a long-lost friend," according to Vice contributor Aina Khan. "The first sip of Rooh Afza, it goes straight to the brain, to the memory. It appeals to the subconscious, not just to the palate," a Pakistani man told Taste.

Rooh Afza is popular at Ramadan, before and after the fast

But what does Rooh Afza taste like, really? Food52 notes that a Pakistani version of the drink tastes like rose and kewra, which is the white flower of the pandanus plant. Its blossoms also flavor Muslim south Asian dishes. Food52 suggested the Indian version of the beverage is more complex, with sandalwood, carrot, pineapple, and spinach. Rooh Afza made in India also contains chicory, water lily, dried grapes, and coriander, according to Taste. It's an elixir originally intended to cure everything from sleeplessness to blood infections – and, as mentioned, to keep the drinker cool in the hot Asian summer.

Rooh Afza's refreshing, energizing properties have made it a Ramadan staple. The holy month on the Islamic calendar requires Muslims to fast during daylight hours. Rooh Afza is drunk with the pre-dawn meal so fasters can keep cool all day. After sunset prayer, the drink's manufacturer hands out free glasses of Rooh Afza, too. Then the drink comes with iftar, the fast-breaking dinner because it nicely offsets the traditional strong, spicy dishes. "When you haven't eaten or drank for a whole day, Rooh Afza is the cold sugar rush you need," a Pakistani man told Taste.

What is Rooh Afza, after all? If you know Arabic, just read the label: "Rooh Afza" translates to "refreshment for the soul."