Aguas frescas (meaning “fresh waters” in Spanish) are non-alcoholic beverages that are quite popular in Mexico. This traditional drink dates back to the 15th century when Aztecs muddled fruits with fresh water to quench their thirst during journeys. Later on, these thirst quenchers were also made using flowers, seeds and cereals. The common flavors include tamarind, hibiscus and horchata.
Horchata is a popular type of agua fresca. It is an authentic Mexican rice-based drink that is sweet, cold and milky: a wonderful refreshing summer beverage and an excellent non-dairy substitute for those who have dairy restrictions.
This chilled beverage can be prepared in many ways. Seeds or nuts (peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds) or grains (rice) or fruits are blended with either water or milk. This drink is very popular in Spain and Latin American countries with each having its variations.
What is the origin of agua fresca?
This drink is a classic example of how food easily evolves and travels across borders. The roots of this dish trace back to ancient Egypt where tiger nut milk was consumed. Tiger nut, a recent addition to the list of superfoods, is actually a tuber and not a nut. It was largely cultivated in North Africa during ancient times. The Egyptians ground these to make tiger nut flour and tiger nut milk. So when the Moors conquered Spain, tiger nuts made its way to Valencia. Due to similar climatic conditions and soil fertility, it was easy to cultivate tiger nut in the Spanish terrain. From there, during the Latin American colonisations, it traveled across the Atlantic to the Latin countries.
Tiger nut is known as chufa in Spanish. Hence the Spanish drink is known as horchata (or orxata as they call it in Valencia) de chufa. Horchata is derived from the Latin term hordeum, which means barley.
The Spanish horchata is often served with soft and sweet Spanish bread called farton or rosquilletas – crunchy biscuits. It is a popular beverage sold in cafés during the summer, either frozen or ice cold! Horchata de chufa is very similar to a West African drink called kunnu aya, which is also made using tiger nuts and dates.
The Spanish horchata and the Latin American versions are entirely different. In the Mexican horchata, also known as horchata de arroz, rice grains replace tiger nut.
Ground rice, mixed with cinnamon, and sometimes almonds are usually combined with water to make it refreshing. It is always served ice cold with lots of ice cubes.
Other varieties of horchata across Latin America
Horchata de ajonjolí is the Puerto Rican version of the beverage. It is basically a sesame drink. Soaked sesame seeds are ground and sweetened with sugar to make a flavorful drink.
Horchata de melon is made with cantaloupe, sweet melons.
In El Salvador, it is horchata de morro. This refreshing drink is a mix of morro seeds, peanuts, rice and cold milk.
The Venezuelans call theirs chichi and there is an alcoholic counterpart called chicha andina.
And let’s not forget French orgeat (also called orzata in Italy) which is a classic drink prepared with ground almonds and that is also very similar to this horchata.
Horchata is quickly gaining popularity and is used as a flavoring agent in cookies, ice cream and sweets. Nowadays, pre-packaged flavors of the traditional Mexican drink are available commercially.
Enjoy this refreshing homemade horchata on cinco de mayo, Mexico independence day (September 16th) or year round!
- ⅔ cup long grain white rice
- 1 cup almonds , blanched
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 cups water (hot, not boiling)
- 3 cups water (cold)
- ⅓ cup sugar
- Grind the rice in a blender until it is reduced to a fine powder.
Transfer it to a large jar and add the almonds, cinnamon sticks, and ground cinnamon. Add the 2 cups of water and mix.
- Close the jar and let stand for 8 hours at room temperature.
At the end of these 8 hours, remove the lime zest and the cinnamon sticks and pour the rice mixture into a blender.
- Blend for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth.
Place a fine mesh strainer on a deep salad bowl and cover with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth.
- Pour over the mixture gradually, stirring gently to help the liquid go through the cheesecloth and colander.
Add 2 cups of cold water to the mixture and continue stirring gently.
- When all the liquid is added, pick up the corners of both cheesecloths and twist them together.
- Squeeze firmly to expel all the remaining liquid.
- Add the remaining cupl of cold water and the sugar. Mix well with a hand blender.
- Pour into a bowl, cover well and refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.
- Stir well before serving.
- Serve with crushed ice.
- Store for a maximum of 6 days in the refrigerator.