Sekanjabin & Oxymel: The Basics


by Lady Murienne l’aloiere

Sekanjabin

First a quick clarification, We don’t drink sekanjabin… Sekanjabin is a syrup that when mixed with water becomes the drink we know, that drink is called “sharbat-e sekanjabin”.This is an ancient drink which is still served in Iran today.

The Sekanjabin syrup is also eaten without making a drink… here is an example from an Iranian cooking blog called Tumeric and Saffron (1)

Being from the south of Iran where summers are long and hot, eating sekanjabin and lettuce was an afternoon ritual in our home. Usually, my mother would place a bowl of sekanjabin in the middle of a large round tray, surrounded by several heads of fresh and crisp lettuce in the middle of the table or on the picnic blanket under the shade of a tree, where we would take a piece of lettuce and dip it into the bowl. Almost every time we had sekanjabin we were reminded by our mother that sekanjabin is not just food but it also has medicinal values with healing powers and a good source of vitamins.

From Master Cariadoc (2) –

“Sekanjabin is a period drink; it is mentioned in the Fihrist of al-Nadim, which was written in the tenth century. The only period recipe I have found for it (in the Andalusian cookbook) is called “Sekanjabin Simple” and omits the mint. It is one of a large variety of similar drinks described in that cookbook-flavored syrups intended to be diluted in either hot or cold water before drinking.”

Here is the translated recipe he mentions above…

Sekanjabin Simple (Andalusian p. A-74)

Take a ratl of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an ûqiya of this with three of hot water when fasting: it is beneficial for fevers of jaundice, and calms jaundice and cuts the thirst, since sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas of sour vinegar for a ratl of honey and it is admirable.

Ratl

Prior to the Fatimid Period (7-10th century): 1 Ratl = 406.35g or 14.33oz

Under the Fatimids (11-12th Century): 1 Ratl = 437.5 g or 15.43oz

Around the 14th Century: 1 Ratl = 468.75 g or 16.53oz  (3)

Ûqiyas

1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp (4)

This recipe is for the most popular form of Sekanjabin. This is the Mint version Master Cariadoc has on his site.

Sekanjabin (from A Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden)

Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 2 cups of water; when it comes to a boil add 1 cup wine vinegar. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add a handful of mint, remove from fire, let cool. Dilute the resulting syrup to taste with ice water (5 to 10 parts water to 1 part syrup). The syrup stores without refrigeration.

As you can see the recipe is one of proportions which makes it infinity customizable. The three base ingredients are in halves…. 4 cups sugar, half that amount… 2 cups of water, half that amount…. 1 cup vinegar You can scale the recipe up or down and as long as you keep those proportions you will get the same finished product.

The flavors are up to you as well! I am including a few different combinations on the next page but I encourage you to try different fruits and spices and see what you like.

  • Ginger – Mince 1/2 cup fresh ginger. Add it to the syrup after 30 mins of simmering and cool. Strain out the ginger.
  • Strawberry/Ginger – Slice 2 cups strawberries and a good sized knob of fresh ginger. Add strawberries and ginger after the syrup has been simmering 25 mins. Simmer 5 more minutes, remove from heat and cool. Strain the syrup. Keep the strawberries, they are great on ice cream or angel food cake!
  • Lemon/clove – Replace the vinegar with 1 pint of lemon juice, simmer as before. Add 8-10 cloves at the end of the simmer and let cool. Strain out the cloves.
  • Some other suggestions for flavors… rose, violets, hyssop, basil, pomegranate, sour grape, lavender, jujube, thistle, tamarind, carrot, plum, pear,  and apple

Oxymel

Another drink of this type is Oxymel. Oxymel is a honey & vinegar syrup that is more European in nature. Oxymel can be found in Hippocrates’ On Regimen in Acute Diseases. (5) This ancient Greek source (460-380 BC) mentions Oxymel repeatedly with explanations for its proper use in medicinal treatment but does not provide a recipe for the drink. In Greek Oxymel literally translates to “acid-honey” providing us with a basic recipe of vinegar (acid) and honey, with the diluting water being self evident.

Another early medical man, Galen, provides us with a recipe in Chapter 6 of Book 4 of Staying Healthy nearly 6 centuries after Hippocrates:

Oxymeli – Honey Vinegar

Simmer honey until it foams, discard, the scum, add enough vinegar to make it neither too sharp nor too sweet, boil again until it is mixed and not raw. For use, mix with water, just as you would mix wine with water.

Although it appears that much of Oxymel is presumed to be to taste, here is a redaction by Anahita bint ‘abd alKarim al-hakim al-Fassi:

Oxymel

1-1/2 cup Honey

1/2 cup Red or White Wine Vinegar

Mix honey and vinegar; simmer until well blended; cool.

This syrup is added, water to taste like the sekanjabin syrup is, though I tend to add much more water to oxymel than sekanjabin.

Sources:

1 Turmeric & Saffron Blog – http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/2010/02/sekanjabin-sweet-and-sour-ancient.html

2 Cariadoc’s Miscelleny – (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. http://www.pbm.com/

~lindahl/cariadoc/drinks.html

3 Measuring the Mevieval Islamic Economy – https://sites.google.com/site/islamiceconomyuwo/weights-andmeasurements/maghribnorth-africa/ratl

4 Feast of the Centuries – http://feastofthecenturies.wordpress.com/tag/al-andalus-cookbook/

5 Hippocrates’ On Regimen in Acute Diseases – http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/acutedis.html

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