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Thandai Recipe | Festive Holiday Drink – Cookilicious

Sweet, nutty, and spicy Thandai is a chilled Indian festive drink recipe made with homemade Thandai powder. It’s mainly served during Holi and is a crowd favorite. It can be made ahead of time and in less than 30 minutes!

one hand picking up a glass of thandai from a tray
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What is Thandai

Thandai also known as Sardai is a North Indian traditional, festive harvest drink made with whole milk and a special Thandai masala that’s prepared with dr fruits/nuts and whole spices making it very flavorful. All the spices used to make this drink help in digestion and boost immunity. Thandai comes from the Hindi word ‘Thanda’ which means cold. It has an aromatic, and nutty taste. It actually feels like drinking an Indian dessert! Many know this shahi thandai as the Holi drink!

I read somewhere that the Thandai recipe was invented by Hakim (a physician using traditional remedies in India) way back in the 1890s. How fascinating! One of its popular variants is called Bhaang which is a paste made from the leaves of the cannabis plant. Contrary to popular belief, Thandai and Bhaang (cannabis) aren’t the same. Bhang is a potent alternative to the Thandai.

When is it made 

Traditionally, this heavenly sweet, nutty, and little spicy Indian drink is served during the Maha Shivaratri and Holi festivals. For both these festivals, Thandai is sometimes mixed with Bhaang (cannabis) when revelry is high! That is why it’s India’s one of the best festive holiday drinks or milkshakes. This seasonal drink is best served cold, mainly during spring and summer because it is good for health.

a hand sprinkling rose petals over a glass of thandai drink

My memories of this drink

Growing up, my next-door aunty would make Thandai powder at home and stock it during the start of spring. She would mix it with warm almond milk and give it to her children. We too would get to have it occasionally. She would say that it helps you sleep better when you have it at night time. I remember drinking Thandai with my friends and laughing over our milk mustaches. I still follow her recipe to make

Warm Thandai and Haldi Ka Doodh (Turmeric Milk) are two Indian milkshakes that we regularly had growing up. Such fond childhood memories stay with you forever! If you want a festive holiday drink idea, this recipe is for you.

Why make this

There are many benefits to drinking this sweet but nourishing seasonal drink called thandai. This drink not only cools down the body but also refreshes it. The main function of this shake is that it acts as an instant coolant and makes us feel instantly refreshed after having it.

  • A perfect non-alcoholic drink for spring and summer
  • Can easily be made vegan
  • It takes just 30 minutes of your time
  • Can be made ahead of time
  • Helps soothe the body from all the excess summer heat 
  • Rich in antioxidants, and also restores your hormones to a state of balance
  • There is no bhang in this recipe
  • The recipe is easily scalable
  • It’s a crowd favorite

Ingredients needed 🧾

all ingredients needed to make thandai powder placed on a plate with labels on them

Thandai masala – This is a very special aromatic spice blend that’s prepared by grinding a variety of spices together. There is no artificial flavor or preservative in the homemade thandai masala and honestly, it tastes much better. It is also naturally vegan and gluten-free. Store this Instant thandai mix in an airtight container and use it in different dessert recipes like this milkshake or Yogurt Thandai Bark.

Unsalted nuts like cashews or kaju, almonds or badam, and pistachios, or pista are used to make the thandai powder. I have used raw almonds, but you can also use blanched almonds (without the skin) if making thandai paste.

Spices like whole black peppercorns, cardamom, poppy seeds, saffron or kesar, fennel seeds, dried edible rose petals, and pumpkin or melon seeds are used to make the thandai masala.

These spices are known for their special digestive properties that help improve the digestive system significantly and facilitate bowel movement, thereby detoxifying the body naturally and cleansing the blood naturally. They also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Optionally, you can add raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg to this mix if you have them lying around. Each ingredient has a role to play (cooling effect, digestion, immunity, etc) and they all come together to make this drink nourishing. Sometimes I also add some milk powder. It gives it a nice flavor.

  • Nuts like almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pumpkin/melon seeds help provide energy. They are also a source of rich proteins, fiber, and minerals.
  • Spices like peppercorn, and cardamom boost immunity
  • Fennel seeds, saffron, and rose petals have a cooling effect on the body
  • Cardamom helps detoxify the body
  • Poppy seeds or khus-khus aid in digestion and have a cool potency
all the ingredients needed to make Thandai placed on a tray with labels on them

To make the Thandai drink at home, here’s what you will need besides the Thandai masala.

Milk – You can use full-fat whole milk. Adding milk acts as an energy booster and is rich in calcium. Alternatively, you can use dairy-free unsweetened milk like oat milk. Almond milk is thinner and can split when boiled so will not work here.

Condensed milk, Heavy cream, half & half, or evaporated milk is added to give the Thandai shake a rich and creamy texture. Read the notes below for substitutions.

Sweetener – I have used brown sugar here. But you can use white sugar or even jaggery. You can also add chopped dates or maple syrup or a sweetener like stevia or erythritol.

Spices and nuts – saffron strands, dried rose petals, and pistachios give this drink a festive feel.

Rosewater or Kewra – Adding this will instantly lift up the flavor, and make it aromatic.

How to make it 🔪

2 image collage showing how to make Thandai Masala
  1. Arrange all the spices and nuts that you will need in their exact proportions, on a plate.
  2. Transfer them all to the blender and grind them to a coarse powder. You can also crush them using a mortar and pestle. There is no need to roast them prior. Do not grind them for long else the consistency will become paste-like. Store this Thandai masala in an airtight container.

If you want to make thandai paste instead, use blanched almonds. When grinding add a few tablespoons of milk along with a teaspoon of rose water. Store this paste in an airtight bottle and keep it in the fridge. Please note that dry thandai powder has a longer shelf life.

4 image collage showing how to make Thandai
  1. Add 4 tablespoons of milk to a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave. Soak saffron in it for 10 minutes. This is called the blooming of saffron.
  2. To a thick-bottomed pan, add milk and heavy cream.
  3. Then add Thandai powder and sugar. Cook over a medium flame and bring to a boil. Simmer the milk mixture for 12-15 minutes.
  4. Take it off the flame and add the saffron milk along with rose water and dried rose petals. Mix it all together.
2 image collage showing how to cool and strain the Thandai
  1. Cover the pan and let it steep for an hour on the kitchen counter.
  2. Strain the drink to remove any leftover gritty stuff from the nuts and spices. This is an optional step but advisable. Then chill this drink in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours at least or till it’s time to serve.
2 glasses of thandai served in a blue tray

Serving suggestions 🍽 

Once the milk mixture cools down completely, you can do one of the 3 things at this stage:

  1. Pour the Thandai milkshake into serving glasses and serve it chilled. Garnish it with saffron, sliced pistachios/almonds and edible rose petals. Ice cubes can also be added. It’s s delicious that your guests would chug that entire glass in one gulp.
  2. Pour this into an ice cream container and freeze it overnight. Thandai Ice Cream is ready.
  3. Pour in Popsicle molds or kulfi molds and make your own Thandai Ice Pops.

When to drink it

Despite the name ‘Thandai’, there are some who prefer to enjoy this drink warm. It’s based on personal preference. Instant Thandai drink is the quintessential festive drink that’s served during Mahashivratri and during the Holi festival. It can also be served as a prasad, during Navratri, when fasting, or as a holy drink during other festivals. You can also have a glass of thandai after a meal or at night.

You can also make this Indian drink when entertaining, for potlucks, parties, family brunches, or on special or festive days. In summer, when you are looking to beat the heat and stay hydrated, or if you want a quick energy boost, have this refreshing thandai sharbat. It instantly cools down the body and promotes digestion while quenching the summer thirst making it a favorite drink during summertime.

Holi party menu

If you are hosting a Holi party in your home, be sure to check out these awesome recipes that are just fit for a crowd! For finger foods, Moong Dal Toast, Cheese Corn Balls, and Puff Pastry Samosa are always a HIT idea! Of course, any party is incomplete without Dahi Vada. You can make Sweet Potato Masala Puri and serve it with Tawa Chole. Spinach Rice Pilaf, Mint Pistachio Rice, or Soya Chunks Biryani are great choices for rice dishes.

For desserts, besides this Indian Thandai drink, you can also serve Rose Sandesh, Gulkand Shrikhand Tarts, Gulab Jamun Malai Kulfi, or/and Paneer Gujiya Shells! You can also check out this Holi Desserts Round-up for ideas. Besides the food, obviously plan to keep lots of organic colors, water balloons, and pichkaris (water guns) for your guests to enjoy this beautiful festival of colors!

Top recipe tips 💭

If you don’t have melon seeds, use dried seeds of any fruit from the melon family preferably cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, and pumpkin or pumpkin seeds. Wash and sun-dry them, then roasted them in the oven for 15 mins at 300 F. If certain other spices or nuts are not available to you, you may swap them with the closest ingredient or choose to skip them altogether. This will however alter the final flavors.

When making thandai masala, do not grind it for long else it will become like a paste. The powder should be of coarse consistency. In place of heavy cream, you can also use half & half, condensed milk, or evaporated milk to get that creamy texture in this Thandai recipe. In case you find the thandai very thick, add some ice cubes or water to thin it. If you are unable to make the Thandai powder for whatever reason, use thandai essence or Everest thandai masala powder.

Important to note – Nutritional facts include nuts but remember that some of these values will be lower, including the total calorie count, because a lot of the solid matter of the nuts is strained out and not consumed. Also, just 1-2 tablespoons of masala are what is used.

Recipe FAQs 📖

What are the alternate ways to sweeten Thandai?

Instead of raw sugar, you can also use white granulated sugar, maple syrup, honey, jaggery, or even dates. The color may change depending on what you use.

How to store it?

Thandai drink stays well in the fridge for 5-6 days. Store thandai powder in a clean, dry airtight container and keep it in a cool dry place. It stays good for 2 months. If you want to store it longer, refrigerate it. I would suggest you make the thandai masala in small batches. The measurements provided in the recipe yield about half a cup of thandai masala.

What are some recipe variations?

Add natural food color to this festive holiday drink – Thandai to make it in different Holi colors. You can also add alternate flavors like gulkand, rose, mango, paan, or badam to give this kesar thandai a different flavor and color.

Another alternative is to soak all the nuts and spices overnight and then grind them with milk the next day to make a smooth paste. Use this paste form instead of the powder. Add a spoonful of this paste to a glass of milk, along with sugar, mix, and serve.

How to make it vegan?

Use unsweetened oat milk along with dairy-free creamer to make this Thandai recipe vegan. Almond milk is thinner and can split when boiled. But there is a shortcut here. You can use almond milk, walnut milk, flax milk, soy milk, or coconut milk without boiling it.

Add all milk, thandai powder, and sugar (skip if using sweetened milk) to a blender and blend it like a smoothie. Serve chilled with your favorite toppings. You can also add almond powder/coconut milk powder/cashew powder when blending.

If want to serve this as a warm drink, you can lightly warm the milk. Then add the thandai powder and sugar. Strain and serve. If you are on a Paleo diet, replace white sugar with coconut sugar or maple syrup.

Does it contain alcohol?

There is no alcohol in thandai sharbat. It is optional. If you want to add alcohol, then a good floral gin like Hendrick’s will accentuate the nutty and spicy flavors of the drink. Try it.

How to use thandai powder

You can use leftover thandai powder in your oatmeal, smoothies, milkshakes, etc. I also use it to make Thandai Chocolate Bark. You can use this Thandai spice mix to flavor desserts like ice cream, cheesecake, kulfi, kheer, muffins, cake, pudding, mousse, or phirni. You can also blend it with yogurt to make thandai lassi similar to mango rose lassi.

More milk-based Indian drinks

a hand pouring thandai into a glass

Did you try this recipe? Please let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment below or sharing a picture on Instagram @cookilicious with the hashtag #cookiliciousveg. I love hearing your feedback! 

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Recipe 📖

one hand picking up a glass of thandai from a tray

Thandai Recipe | Festive Holiday Drink

Sweet, nutty, and spicy Thandai is a chilled Indian festive drink recipe made with homemade Thandai powder. It’s mainly served during Holi and is a crowd favorite. It can be made ahead of time and in less than 30 minutes!

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Course: Dessert, Drinks

Cuisine: Indian

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Servings: 6 people

Calories: 442.04kcal

Author: Priya Lakshminarayan

Ingredients 

To Make the Thandai Powder

Instructions

To Make the Thandai Masala

  • Arrange all the spices and nuts that you will need in their exact proportions, on a plate.

  • Transfer them all to the blender and grind them to a powder consistency. Store this Thandai powder in an airtight container.

To make Thandai

  • Add 4 tablespoons of milk to a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave. Soak saffron in it for 10 minutes. This is called blooming the saffron.

  • To a thick bottomed pan, add milk and heavy cream.

  • Then add Thandai masala and sugar. Cook over a medium flame and bring to a boil. Simmer the milk mixture for 12-15 minutes.

  • Take it off the flame and add the saffron milk along with rose water and dried rose petals. Mix it all together.

  • Cover and let it steep for an hour on the kitchen counter.

  • Strain the mixture if you prefer thandai to be clear of all the small particles. 

  • Then chill this drink in the refrigerator till it’s time to serve. Pour in serving glasses, garnish it with saffron and sliced almonds. Serve.

Notes

If you don’t have melon seeds, use dried seeds of any fruit from the melon family preferably cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, and pumpkin or pumpkin seeds. Wash and sun-dry them, then roasted them in the oven for 15 mins at 300 F. If certain other spices or nuts are not available to you, you may swap them with the closest ingredient or choose to skip them altogether. This will however alter the final flavors.
When making thandai masala, do not grind it for long else it will become like a paste. The powder should be of coarse consistency. In place of heavy cream, you can also use half & half, condensed milk, or evaporated milk to get that creamy texture in this Thandai recipe. In case you find the thandai very thick, add some ice cubes or water to thin it.
Important to note – Nutritional facts include nuts but remember that some of these values will be lower, including the total calorie count, because a lot of the solid matter of the nuts is strained out and not consumed. Also, just 1-2 tablespoons of masala are what is used.

Nutrition

Serving: 1glass | Calories: 442.04kcal | Carbohydrates: 20.73g | Protein: 12.69g | Fat: 35.9g | Saturated Fat: 20.42g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.51g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9.93g | Cholesterol: 111.07mg | Sodium: 63.91mg | Potassium: 306.25mg | Fiber: 1.09g | Sugar: 18.31g | Vitamin A: 1333.94IU | Vitamin C: 0.88mg | Calcium: 198.49mg | Iron: 1.16mg

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