Dubai: There are a few things that we always associate with Ramadan, such as dates, sumptuous iftar meals with family and the sound of the taraweeh prayers. But, wait, that’s not it - there’s the wonderfully burgundy drink called Vimto.
A fruit cordial with a distinct flavour of black carrot and black currant. Yes, there are those who love it and some who harbour rather strong sentiments against it.
But, usually stacked in the form of a pyramid, these bottles seem to be the show stopper for many grocery stores in the UAE during the month of Ramadan. This year, the drink first created in Manchester, UK, celebrates 110 years! Not a mean feat, indeed.
According to the brand’s official website, John Nichols worked as a stockbroker’s clerk and later as a soap factory manager in England, before he decided to enter “the world of flavours, herbs and spices”.
This is when he decided to set up a small wholesale herbalist business and in 1908, he created Vimto. It was originally meant to be a herbal tonic, “that gave the drinker ‘vim and vigour’”. In fact, in 1912, the name Vimto was registered as a medicine. But, just a year later, Vimto was re-registered as just a beverage, not alcoholic and not medicated.
The product’s reach soon expanded due to trade, travelling with sailors to China, India and Africa.
It wasn’t until 1928 that the drink first arrived in the Gulf region, imported by Aujan Group Holding, then known as Abdulla Aujan and Brothers. In 1978, Vimto was first produced in a factory in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
Rasha Sakr, marketing manager of Vimto, told Gulf News: “Over the years and from one generation to another, Vimto became phenomenally popular in the region, and synonymous with Ramadan, and has become the unique and irreplaceable drink of choice on the iftar table. This year, Vimto celebrates its 92nd Ramadan season, marking the centennial countdown.”
While this drink is available all year round, during Ramadan, it is promoted at a whole different level. Billboards and ads are visible all around the country and most supermarkets bring out stocks closer to the entrance. So, why is it that it is so popular in Ramadan?
Sakr said: “Vimto is a delicious and refreshing thirst quenching iftar ritual associated with providing a rewarding boost, soothing the body after a day of fasting. It grew to become Ramadan’s symbol of ‘sweet togetherness’ ... characterised by its symbolic deep colour and the Vimto cloud created when it infuses with water, which is prepared and shared, not just opened.
“Every mother prepares her Vimto cordial in a different and unique way. In fact, it is this preparation experience that makes Vimto cordial so unique and irreplaceable as opposed to any other Ramadan beverage.”
More than 25 million bottles of the cordial were sold during Ramadan last year. Markets in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Iraq are among the biggest for the drink in the world.
While the drink has survived for over a century, lived through two world wars, and gone from being a simple cordial to an aerated drink sold in a ‘Squeezy’ packaging, fans of the drink have stood by it and some have even passed on the love for Vimto down generations.
Shanaz Karim, a Pakistani national based in Dubai, has memories of her aunt preparing the drink for her when she was a child. Since then, it is the first thing that she has when she ends her fast during Ramadan.
She said: “There are many drinks in the market, but I only like this one. The taste is good and there are memories attached to it. I prepare it exactly how my aunt used to all those years ago. Nothing has changed. And now my children also love the drink. So, it is carrying forward through generations.”
When she visits her friends, even Emiratis, during Ramadan, she sees them preparing the drink for iftar. She believes it becomes popular among residents because it feels good to have it chilled on a hot day.
She said: “There are many people in my home who think it tastes like medicine, but I disagree.”
Shahid Rahim Baksha, a Pakistani national born in Dubai, is another person who has been consuming the drink since he was a young child. At his home, the drink would be bought throughout the year, but Ramadan made it extra special.
He said: “I still remember, as a young child, I would put Vimto in a glass and leave it in the freezer because I wanted to eat it like ice cream. So, we would drink it and then I wanted to eat it chilled. Now, all these years later, I do the same for my children. We all love the drink.”
Ben Szczypek, a British national based in Dubai, used to consume the drink in the UK, when he was growing up. And he was grateful to have found it when he moved to the UAE around three years ago.
He said: “I prefer it to the fizzy drinks. It’s sweet, but also fruity. Back in the UK, it doesn’t taste exactly the same. But, when I moved here, I immediately bought a bottle. It was like a flashback.”
He was amazed to witness the drink’s popularity during Ramadan. Though he still doesn’t understand why this happens, he assumes it must be because it is refreshing. For him, it brings back great memories every time he has a glass.
He said: “As a child, I remember sitting in the back of my dad’s car, drinking Vimto. These were during our weekends away with my grandparents. I must have been six years old, then.”
Balqis Mohammad Ali Baabde, a Tanzanian national based in Dubai, feels a special connection to the drink, especially when Ramadan comes around.
She said: “I think it is because it is so easy to make and it tastes so good. I have been raised in the UAE and when I was a child, I had it a lot throughout the year. I would have it with my lunch and dinner! But, more so in Ramadan, every day with iftar.”
Noureen Jawed, a Pakistani national based in Ajman, loves the taste of the drink and believes that every time she has it, it uplifts her mood.
She said: “It’s so refreshing. People say it tastes like medicine, but it is so fruity! I don’t like fizzy drinks, so it is a good replacement.”
Having grown up in the UAE, she has had the drink since childhood. As a young child, she would wait for Ramadan to come around because it meant that Vimto would arrive at their home, specially for her.
She said: “I would fast ... I would get Vimto at iftar time. I would have it every day! My family doesn’t like it, and I’m the only person who has stuck to it in all these years. I think it becomes popular in the month because it is ro refreshing. Now, it’s an addiction. I even have a crate full of Vimto bottles in my office.”
Sana Mansouri, an Indian national based in Dubai, doesn’t personally like Vimto, but her husband, is in love with it. She is amazed at the quantity of the drink he can consume in one go.
She said: “It’s the only drink he likes. Every time we visited Global Village, he would buy a large glass as soon as we walked in. And during Ramadan, it has to be prepared for iftar. For his sake, I’m always looking for a good deal so I can buy it in bulk.”
After purchasing several bottles together, they then distribute them among their family, relatives and even neighbours. Mansouri’s husband has gone on to try all the different variants of the drink, but he keep coming back to the original cordial.
Shaza Aijaz Ahmad, a Pakistani national based in Dubai, didn’t like the drink until she had a chilled version on a hot summer day a few years ago. Since then, she is a true fan.
She said: “I like it in the slush form. I think it’s so popular among people in Ramadan because of its taste and it makes you feel refreshed. The taste is very different from any of the other drinks available.”
Ramadan is here, and these Gulf News readers are busy preparing their favourite drink for iftar. Will you be trying it out this Ramadan, too? Share your Vimto stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.