Hindus are known for observing Holi with a rainbow powder-fight of epic proportions. During this celebration of brilliant color, love, renewal, and springtime, observers also prepare a variety of delicacies, such as cannabis-infused bhang. Residents of Northern India, meanwhile, refresh themselves with another special elixir: a fermented purple carrot drink called kanji. With a little sunlight and water, anyone can assemble this spicy, tangy drink. It practically makes itself.
Families concoct this probiotic brew during the winter using nothing but raw carrots, beets, mustard seeds, and sea salt. Indian mothers and grandmothers plunk long, slender slices of carrots—in shades of violet, plum, pomegranate, and mulberry—into a jar of water with crushed mustard seeds. (Some more modern recipes call for boiling the water.) Then, they leave the jar in a sunny spot, periodically agitating its contents with a wooden spoon. The batch is ready when the liquid turns bright red and the mustard seeds rise to the top. This indicates that the vegetable sugars have fermented into acid, which takes anywhere from a few days to a week. After straining, the drink is ready, and the household is left with a pleasant byproduct: a vibrant collection of delicious pickles.
Though kanji consumption is seasonal and centered around Holi, Indians living in Rajasthan also soak bean fritters in the pickled liquid to make kanji vadas. They marinate and chill these fried morsels, often serving more of the drink on the side. Indian families may also drink a glass before a hearty meal. Kanji’s probiotic nature functions as a digestive aid, akin to the fermented microbes found in kvass and kombucha.
With no hint of sweetness to mellow out kanij’s pungent spiciness, many consider the pigmented pickle juice an acquired taste. But fans of kanji say that it’s like coffee, whiskey, and other beverages that initially shock the senses: Once you learn to love it, you won’t be able to get enough.
Need to Know
Kanji is typically made at home, and while purple carrots are abundant during Indian winters, they're not as plentiful elsewhere. If the carrots in your region are orange, you can add more beets to recreate kanji's signature glow.