Whence “shrub”?

Over this past weekend I’ve had several occasions to tell people about the two shrubs which I put up (and blogged about) on Friday. Everyone asks the same thing after hearing about them: where heck does that word come from and what does it mean? I had no good answer till this morning when I finally got around to doing some serious web research. Here’s what I learned.

Our word “shrub” most likely comes from the Arabic “sharbah” (or “sharabb”) which is a syrup made from fruits and/or extracts of flowers and herbs, generally mixed with lime juice which serves as a preservative of flavor and color. This syrup is then diluted with water or evaporated milk before serving. In India this is called sharbat. Interestingly I was already familiar with sharbat as I had to research these flavorings as part of proofing Anu Apte’s recipe for the “Saffron Sandalwood Sour” just a couple of months ago. Having made sharbat and now shrubb, the case for a connection seems pretty strong to me.

Our syrup shrub would seem to be a variation on the sharbah/sharbat where the lime juice has been replaced by vinegar as a matter of practicality, I imagine, at time and place when limes would have been rare or non-existent. Exactly when sharbah/sharbat were introduced to the West is unfortunately lost in the misty “day after” of history.

Here’s a link to more information on sharbat (and sharbat recipes):

http://www.indiacurry.com/faqterms/whatsharbat.htm

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