Punch, Toddy, Grog & Co. – Part 4: Punch – An Indian Drink

Punch - Titelbild 4.

As we have shown, English sailors drank punch and made it famous all over the world. Many people deduce from this that punch is an English invention. In this post, we show why this is not true and why punch is an Indian invention.

An English invention?

Charles Bridges Mount suggested that punch was an English invention. [1-401] [1-402] J. Taalboys Wheeler opined in 1878: “It is a curious fact, not generally known, that punch was an Indian drink invented by the convivial [note: English] Factors at Surat.” [2-21]

He also attributes the invention to the English. The chain of evidence for the English origin of the punch compiled by Charles Bridges Mount and David Wondrich and supplemented by us is as follows: [19]

  1. John Fryer claims that the name punch comes from the Indian word “paunch” meaning “five”. This derivation as evidence that punch is an Indian invention is considered by both to be implausible, although they offer no other conclusive explanation for the etymological origin of the term punch than that it may have come from puncheon, for a barrel of a certain size, but here too they are inconclusive. They further state:
  2. As early as the mid-16th century, the English and Dutch knew of a mixture of wine, sugar, lemons and spices, which would correspond to a punch.
  3. Around 1600, English ships began to carry brandy, which was diluted with water.
  4. The healing properties of citrus fruits for scurvy were also known as early as the end of the 16th century.
  5. In his East India Company medicine book published in 1617, John Woodall recommends loading lemon juice on board to treat scurvy. He recommends taking this juice when ill or as a precaution, optionally mixed with sugar and brandy. He says one can also prescribe wine with sugar, almonds, cinnamon and rose water.
  6. If you take both together, you would get a punch diluted with water.
  7. It is documented that the seafarers were very fond of punch. The ingredients could be bought very cheaply in India and were thus affordable even for ordinary sailors.
  8. Eventually, by the end of the 17th century at the latest, punch had established itself not only among sailors but also among the nobility and became a fashionable drink.

This chain of evidence is conclusive. It suggests that the recipe of a punch was already known in the Anglo-European tradition and therefore the sailors would have followed these recipes in India by simply using brandy with water instead of wine, and that is how the punch was created. In support of this thesis, it is also said that there are no Indian sources in which punch is described. So everything is clear, isn’t it? Unfortunately not.

An Indian invention!

We are of the opinion that Punch is an Indian invention. The chain of evidence compiled by Charles Bridges Mount and David Wondrich is quite correct in its compilation of facts, but the conclusions drawn from it are not.

There is evidence and weighty indications that make it seem more credible that punch is an Indian invention and that John Fryer was not fooled with his etymological derivation.

The origin of lemonade

We have already talked about some of the arguments in our post on the true origin of lemonade. Since we refer to the analyses made there in this chapter, the detailed source references are missing here, because they can be found there. We merely summarise them here and refer to the lemonade article for a detailed look. In addition, there is further evidence that speaks for an Indian origin of the punch. We will go into these in more detail afterwards.

In the article on lemonade we had stated:

  1. The origin of the citron, one of the three original citrus varieties along with the mandarin and grapefruit, lies in Assam, India, at the foot of the Himalayas. It is already mentioned in the Vedas in the 8th century BC. The lemon developed from this as a cross with the bitter orange, which in turn descended from the mandarin and grapefruit, presumably in northern India. There is reliable evidence from the year 1000 onwards.
  2. It is known that lemonade was an everyday drink in northern India around 1660. This can be proven with a letter from Delhi. It also states that only Christians drank arrack. However, to conclude from this that Indians did not drink alcohol (and thus also punch) does not seem to be permissible, because there are sources that report otherwise. In a footnote to this letter, which dates from 1891, it is noted that lemonade is usually made from limes and water and that for those who can afford it, there are various lemonades. Rose water and sugar were also added.
  3. In India, people traditionally drink lemonades, which are named differently. Citrus juice, water and sugar are mixed and various spices are added.
  4. An Indian medicine book from the 4th century mentions a recipe of lemon juice, water, sugar and camphor. The latter belongs to the genus of cinnamon trees. From this source we may conclude that lemonades have been drunk in India for at least 1600 years. It may also be assumed that lemonade has a much longer tradition; both etymology and botany point to northern India as its origin. Lemonade must therefore be regarded as a North Indian invention, which then spread to the rest of the world together with citrus fruits. It may be that the Romans already drank lemonade, but it originated in India.
  5. Rose water is also mentioned as a possible ingredient in the footnote above. “A great deal of lemonade and rose water with rock candy” was also drunk in Persia around 1700. Rose water is a Persian invention and reached India from there, certainly transported by the Mughals, and was then also drunk there.
  6. Lemonade was not only made with water. There is a travel report from the 1680s according to which an arrack was distilled from palm wine in Indonesia, which was then processed with water, sugar and lemon juice into a lemonade that was called massack and burabols there. This was known to the English as punch.
  7. One essential point is certainly that one should make a “real” punch with a water-diluted distillate. But in Europe, too, wine was used instead. Mankind has always been fond of alcohol, and so one is certainly not mistaken in assuming that a clever mind used not water but a slightly alcoholic palm wine to prepare a lemonade, long before distillation was known. That this was done is proved by a travelogue published in 1700: “Our liquid was suri, a juice obtained from the coconut palms; with this we made a very good massak and lemonade, with the help of sugar, spices, lemons and oranges”.

Further evidence

We have found further evidence to support the above. Jürgen Andersen writes in 1644 that people in Batavia drank punch and other alcoholic drinks or soups. [3-10] Johann Jacob Saar reports something comparable from Ceylon in 1650 and additionally notes that punch was a common drink not only throughout India but also in Persia. [4-59] [4-60] This is confirmed by Erasmus Francisci in 1670 for India. [5-859]

In our opinion, these findings sufficiently prove that the blueprint for a punch may have been laid down in European recipes, but that the punch itself is of Indian origin. One prepared a lemonade with palm wine or diluted arrack, and the punch was ready.

The fifth ingredient: spices

But what about the spices? They absolutely belong in a punch if you want to prepare it true to the original. Traditionally, Indian lemonade is also prepared with spices. That is why a punch, i.e. an alcoholic Indian lemonade, also contains spices; just as John Fryer has let us know: Five ingredients belong in the “Paunch”: distillate, water, lemon, sugar, spice.

We can well imagine that in India the punch was not simply called punch, but that there was another addition to the name, which was not adopted and handed down by the English. This is supported by the fact that there are other Indian drinks and foodstuffs which all have such an addition:

Panch Phoron is a spice mixture of five ingredients; translated this mixture means: “five spices”. [6]

Panchamrita, translated as “five elixirs”, is a mixture of the five foodstuffs honey, palm sugar, Indian yoghurt, cow’s milk and ghee (a type of clarified butter). Instead of palm sugar, Indian basil (tulsi) is also used, or other ingredients from different regions are substituted. This elixir is also used as an offering. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15]For hundreds of years, Panchamrut … is being consumed throughout India, mostly on auspicious occasions, but also generally as a tonic for the maintenance of the human system. … I personally am convinced that the English Punch is a derivative of the Indian PunchAmrut. Both were created as a concoction for wellbeing. Just like a lot of other stuff, the Punch was also one of those Indian creations that reached the other parts of the globe through the British. (Indians could not travel under the British Raj) Unfortunately, a lot of evidence, research, formulae and journals in India was destroyed intentionally…First by the Indians to prevent it from getting into the hands of the British, and then by the British before they were forced to leave.[16]

Panchagavya, translated as “five descendants of the cow”, is a mixture that is also used in traditional Hindu rituals and consists of five ingredients, namely those coming directly from the cow: Cow dung, urine, milk; plus those from further processing, yoghurt and ghee. This mixture is fermented. It is also used in Ayurvedic medicine. [17]

Panchratna Dal, translated as “five jewels”, is a lentil dish from Rajasthan, a northern Indian state. It is prepared with five different types of lentils. It is usually served on special occasions. [18]

So one can well imagine that a normal Indian lemonade, consisting of four ingredients, in its alcoholic form, with alcohol as a fifth ingredient, was called something like the five-ingredient lemonade, as “Panch Something”, and the English adopted only the first part of the name.

European Lemonade – An Echo of India

The Indian origin of lemonade can be seen in the first European recipes for lemonade: it was prepared with spices. We find it written down like this in the early French recipe books. For example, coriander, cinnamon, musk and ambergris are mentioned. Also, not only jasmine was used, but also orange, musk rose and clove blossoms. The roses are reminiscent of the rose water used in India. These ingredients were valuable and could be afforded at the court of Louis XIV. Poorer social classes had to do without them, and as early as 1659 a French recipe was published that did without these ingredients.

When one considers these contexts and reports, does one not inevitably come to the conclusion that the origin of punching must lie in India and that it must be an Indian invention? At any rate, we are convinced of this.

So far we have not gone into the traditional recipes for a punch in detail. This is the subject of the next article in this series. In it we will take a closer look at the first one hundred years of punch descriptions.


Unten steht was. Hoch damit. Punch in Persien 😉


  1. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/Notes_and_Queries_-_Series_10_-_Volume_4.djvu/page487-1024px-Notes_and_Queries_-_Series_10_-_Volume_4.djvu.jpg und https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b1/Notes_and_Queries_-_Series_10_-_Volume_4.djvu/page488-1024px-Notes_and_Queries_-_Series_10_-_Volume_4.djvu.jpg Anonymus: Notes and Queries, 10th S. IV, 18. November 1905. Darin: Punch, the beverage.
  2. https://archive.org/details/earlyrecordsofbr00wheerich/page/20/mode/2up?q=punch J. Talboys Wheeler: Early records of British India: a history of the English settlements in India, as told in the government records, the works of old travellers and other contemporary documents, from the earliest period down to the rise of British power in India. London, 1878.
  3. https://books.google.de/books?id=3TdZAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA32&lpg=PA32&dq=j%C3%BCrgen+andersen+%22palepuntz%22&source=bl&ots=TAH1lQGPOK&sig=ACfU3U1EKsD1VVF5hvaw6Ot8Uf88V_vnsA&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiHg-K5k5jsAhVQ6aQKHXY-DbEQ6AEwAXoECAIQAg#v=onepage&q=j%C3%BCrgen%20andersen%20%22palepuntz%22&f=false Adam Olearius (Hrsg.): Orientalische Reise-Beschreibunge Jürgen Andersen aus Schleßwig der An. Christi 1644. außgezogen und 1650. wieder kommen. Und Volquard Iversen aus Holstein so An. 1655. außgezogen und 1668. wieder angelanget. Seynd beyde respective durch Ost Indien / Sina / Tartarien / Persien / Türckeyen / Arabien und Palestinam gezogen: und haben zu Wasser und Land viel merckliche Dinge gesehen und erfahren; Aus deren bericht mit lust auch verwunderung zu vernehmen die Beschaffenheit und heutiger Zustand der Insulen / festen Länder / Städte / der Einwohner Leben / Sitten und Lehre. Wie auchVon ihnen erlittenen erbärmlichen Schiffbrüchen. Heraus gegeben Durch Adam Olearium, der regierenden Fürstl. Durchl. zu Schleßwig / Holstein Bibliothecarium und Antiquarium. Mit dessen Notis, und etlicher Orter Erklärungen: Sampt vielen Kupferstücken. Schleßwig, 1669.
  4. http://www.deutschestextarchiv.de/book/view/saar_kriegsdienste_1672/?hl=Zucker&p=73 Johann Jacob Saar: Ost-Indianische Funfzehen-Jährige Kriegs-Dienste. Nürnberg, 1672.
  5. https://books.google.de/books?id=wc5MAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA859&dq=palepunz&hl=de&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiJoMmX7-DrAhXssaQKHQpCAFUQ6AEwAHoECAQQAg#v=onepage&q=palepunz&f=false Erasmus Francisci: Neu-polirter Geschicht- Kunst- und Sitten-Spiegel ausländischer Völcker, fürnemlich Der Sineser, Japaner, Indostaner, Jabaner, Malabaren, Peguaner, Siammer, Peruaner, Mexicaner, Brasilianer, Abyssiner, Guineer, Congianer, Asiatischer Tartern, Perser, Armenier, Türcken, Russen, und theils anderer Nationen mehr: welcher, in sechs Büchern, sechserley Gestalten weiset; … Dem Schau-begierigem Leser dargestellt. Nürnberg, 1670.
  6. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panch_Phoron Panch Phoron.
  7. https://bar-vademecum.de/punch-toddy-grog-co-teil-2-punch-ein-getraenk-der-englischen-seeleute/ Punch, Toddy, Grog & Co. – Teil 2: Punch – Ein Getränk der englischen Seeleute
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchamrita Panchamrita.
  9. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amrita_(Trank) Amrita (Trank).
  10. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indisches_Basilikum Indisches Basilikum.
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curd_(India) Curd (India).
  12. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghee Ghee.
  13. https://archive.org/details/b22011584_0003/page/252/mode/2up?q=punch+amrut Anonymus: The English encyclopaedia: being a collection of treatises, and a dictionary of terms, illustrative of the arts and sciences. Vol. IV. London, 1802.
  14. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.56961/page/n349/mode/2up?q=punchamrit
    Alexander Kinloch Forbes: Râs-mâlâ; Hindoo anals of the Province of Goozerat, in Western India. Vol-2. London, 1856.
  15. https://archive.org/details/tribescastesofno03croo/page/292/mode/2up?q=punchamrit William Crooke: The tribes and castes of the North-western Provinces and Oudh. Calcutta, 1896.
  16. https://www.facebook.com/groups/theLBA/posts/10159958705812868/?comment_id=10159961039782868&notif_id=1627850189263823&notif_t=group_comment&ref=notif Yatin Kadlak auf Facebook am 2. August 2021 als Kommentar zu “PART 2: PUNCH – A DRINK OF THE ENGLISH SEAMEN
  17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchagavya Panchagavya.
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panchratna_Dal Panchratna Dal.

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Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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