Most Americans have never heard of Vimto, a syrupy purple concoction invented in Manchester, England in 1908. (Kool-Aid is perhaps the nearest U.S. equivalent.) Today, many in the Middle East—especially in the Persian Gulf states—love the beverage. Thirty-five million bottles of Vimto are sold in the region each year, with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) being the largest non-domestic markets for the brew.
The love goes beyond everyday enjoyment. Vimto has become a kind of symbol of Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims neither drink nor eat from sun-up to sundown. During Ramadan, which began this week, it is customary to break the fast by eating dates and drinking water.
Of course, Muslims may choose other foods and beverages to start an iftar, the meal served at sundown. Since the 1990s, Vimto has become the “undisputed king of the iftar table,” writes Justin Thomas in the UAE newspaper The National. It’s thought that the sweetness of the beverage—it’s made of grapes, raspberries, black currants, a few secret herbs, and a whole lot of sugar—makes it a particularly good way to kick-start the body after so long without sustenance.
Grocery stores are chock full of the drink during Ramadan, but it’s so popular that they often limit customers to two bottles. Good thing you can order a personalized Vimto bottle with your name on it—in Swarovski crystal.
But Vimto is not just about the sugar or the bling; it’s also about memories and traditions. Amaf Yousef, a Syrian now living in England, told the Guardian that it reminds him of his childhood. “Here’s my memory of Vimto,” he said. “Dad brings it, his car full of food and fruits, and then just before iftar as we are listening to recitation from the Qur’an and waiting for the sunset, Mum prepares it with ice cubes swimming inside the jar.”