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Heat hacks from the global south: India's sweet yogurt drink


The heat's been unbearable for many this summer. It's why NPR's Ari Daniel went in search of possible sources of relief and bumped into the Indian yogurt drink lassi.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Gulrez Azhar (ph) currently lives in Bellevue, Wash., where the weather is temperate and most everyone's pretty friendly.

GULREZ AZHAR: People smile at each other. They wish them good morning, good evening, even if they don't know them. This is such an American thing, and I absolutely love it.

DANIEL: When Azhar, who's a public health researcher, travels to northern India, where he grew up, sometimes he greets strangers the same way.

AZHAR: People just look at you weirded out, so then you have to put back that scowl on your face (laughter).

DANIEL: Azhar says that scowl, and the feelings of anger and frustration he's often seen accompanying it, are due in part to the oppressive heat of the region. It's routinely north of 110 degrees.

AZHAR: I think the word is suffocating. Everywhere you go, all around you, it's sweaty, unbearable. It's hot. You don't feel like doing anything - just a continuous period of misery.

DANIEL: Fans just blow the hot air at you and very few people have A/C. But there are simple remedies that help a bit, says Azhar - light, cotton clothing, shifting one's work hours. And then, of course, there's what you ingest. One of Azhar's favorite beverages is the sweet yogurt lassi.

AZHAR: So lassi is something, honestly, I look forward to. Yesterday, we had two rounds of lassi (laughter). It's soothing. It takes away all your heat. If you just drink water, it doesn't stay in your stomach. But with lassi, it has sugar, it has milk, it has electrolytes.

DANIEL: Azhar thinks of the lassi as a complete meal, one that hydrates, nourishes and refreshes.

AFREEN FATIMA: We can move into the kitchen, sure.

DANIEL: This is Azhar's wife, Afreen Fatima (ph). She agrees to show us how lassi's made.

FATIMA: I'll be making two glasses, so I'll take the yogurt.

DANIEL: To which she adds a splash of milk, some sugar.

FATIMA: And then I will also add a few ice cubes.


FATIMA: And now I will blend it.


FATIMA: Cheers.

DANIEL: Fatima takes a sip.

FATIMA: It's cold. It's sweet. It's the best drink (laughter).

AZHAR: Have you noticed that the entire glass is empty already (laughter)?

FATIMA: The refreshing feeling of it, it brings a smile on your face.

DANIEL: There are numerous variations, like the mango lassi. You can also add saffron or dried fruits. There are savory lassis, too, with salt instead of sugar. Simin Levinson is a professor of clinical nutrition at Arizona State University near Phoenix, a place that's seen lethal heat this summer. She's originally from Iran. And when it gets hot, she says she, too, makes a yogurt drink. It's called doogh.

SIMIN LEVINSON: Doogh, so it's more of a savory drink. You can crack some salt and pepper into it. It's usually carbonated. It's common to crush dried rose petals as a garnish.

DANIEL: And mint, which is especially cooling, she says. Turkey also has a yogurt drink called ayran, so do other countries in the Middle East. Levinson says consuming these yogurt-based drinks in hot weather, it just makes sense.

LEVINSON: It does contain more nutrients than, say, just water alone or other types of sports drinks because it does contain protein. It contains probiotics.

DANIEL: In India, near where Gulrez Azhar grew up in the state of Punjab, he says he's heard of lassi being made in large volumes.

AZHAR: They do a jug of lassi (laughter).

FATIMA: Yes, yeah.

AZHAR: There is no way I can drink a jug of lassi, not happening (laughter).

DANIEL: Azhar tells me he's even heard of lassi being made in Punjab in top loading washing machines. He sends me a YouTube link to a wedding scene from an Indian rom-com and I see it, washing machines mixing giant amounts of lassi.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

AZHAR: So that machine is only used for making lassi, not for any other purpose. But again, washing machines are not designed to make lassi (laughter).


DANIEL: Though, if the blistering heat continues, it may be an approach worth adopting.

Ari Daniel, NPR News.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Daniel is a reporter for NPR's Science desk where he covers global health and development.