Chaas, also pronounced 'Chaach' and known by several other names in other Indian languages, is a yogurt-based drink popular across India. People in India have a tendency to translate Chaas into English as "buttermilk," but this would be a misnomer, and would convey an incorrect meaning to people whose mother-tongue is English.
Chaas is the name by which this beverage is known in the Gujarati and Urdu languages, and in some regions of Hindi-speaking north India. It is known as Mattha in other parts of Hindi-speaking north India, as Thayir in Tamil and Malayalam, as majjige in Kannada and Telugu, as taak or tak in Marathi and as ghol in Bengali.
Preparation and variations
Chaas is made by churning yogurt (curds/dahi) and cold water together in a pot, using a hand-held instrument called madhani (whipper). This can be consumed plain or seasoned with a variety of spices. Chaas can be made from fresh yogurt, and the natural flavour of such Chaas is mildly sweet. This type of Chaas is very close to Lassi, with two major differences: Chaas is more dilute (with water) than lassi and unlike lassi, Chaas does not have added sugar.
Although Chaas can be made from fresh yogurt (curds/dahi), it is more commonly made at home from yogurt that is a few days old and has become sour due to age. Indeed, one of the purposes for making Chaas at home is to usefully finish off old yogurt that is lying in the fridge for long. Such Chaas has a tangy, slightly sour taste which is considered delicious. A pinch of salt is usually added to it for further enhancement of taste, and other seasonings can be added also, as described below.
A third variation of Chaas is obtained by adding actual buttermilk (water left over after churning butter) into the Chaas. This gives a slightly sour-bitter taste to the final product, and it is necessary to add seasonings to mask these flavours. Chaas made using buttermilk is very healthy but the taste is not relished by all. However, if proper seasonings and spices are used, it can be delicious. This type of Chaas is more unusual and rare compared to the other types, because it is available only when butter is churned by the housewife, something which is becoming increasingly uncommon in the modern era, where women pursue careers outside the house and do not make butter at home.
Seasoning and flavours
Chaas can be consumed plain, but a little salt is usually added. This is the most common seasoning for Chaas. Numerous other seasonings and spices can be added to salted Chaas, either singly or in combination with each other. These spices are usually roasted in a wok, using a spoonful of cooking oil, before being added to the Chaas. The spices which can be added thus are: Coarsely ground and roasted cumin seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida, grated ginger, very finely diced green chillies and Mustard seeds.
Sugar can also be added to Chaas, but if sugar is added, than neither salt nor spice can be used. Adding sugar to Chaas makes it very similar to lassi, the main difference being that Chaas is more dilute (with water) than lassi. Lassi is more popular in Punjab and certain regions of north India, while Chaas (known by various named) is popular in all other parts of the country.
Vendors have come up with several proprietary products and standardized flavours of Chaas which are produced on an industrial scale and sold as bottled drinks. The best-seller among such brands is Amul's Masala Chass, which has standardized several traditional flavours for the mass bottled-drink market. Other popular modern flavours which are only available as bottled drinks and cannot be made at home or in restaurants include rose-flavoured Chaas ("Chaas Gulabi") and Chaas flavoured with mint ("Mint Chaas"). Both these flavours are of the added-sugar variety and are different from flavoured lassi only for being more dilute and less expensive.
Consumption and benefits
In India, the consumption of Chaas has cultural resonances and associations which are not found in the context of other beverages like tea, coffee or lassi. Chaas is associated with two major benefits: cooling and improved digestion. Both of these properties are improved by the addition of spices.
The cooling properties of Chaas, which helps people to rehydrate and beat the heat of the Indian summer, is greatly valued traditionally. Chaas is considered as a cool drink which keeps the body temperature down in summer. An earthen pot is used to prepare chaas and store it for a few hours before consumption. The use of earthen pot makes the chaas cool even in summer. In the extremely hot desert areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, people consume chaas with salt after getting exposed in the sun because this cools the body and aids in rehydration. In the summer months, crushed ice is often added to the Chaas.
Chaas is consumed all year round. It is usually taken immediately after meals, but is also consumed on its own as a beverage. If spices (especially jeera cumin) have been added to the Chaas, it improves digestion
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, yogurt (curd/dahi) is made on a routine daily basis by every housewife in an Indian home, and this results in Chaas being made almost daily as well. Tea or coffee are also made daily, but they are foreign imports, while Chaas is a purely Indian drink, popular since time immemorial. Secondly,
- Fatih Yildiz, Development and Manufacture of Yogurt and Other Functional Dairy Products, CRC Press, 2010, p. 11
- Ginde, Sadhana. "Chaas Recipe". Bellaonline. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
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