There are few things more Valencian than horchata. Which was why at some point I had intended to blog about it. That is, until I met Neima Briggs, a fellow Austinite (i.e. from Austin, Texas) and recent Fulbright fellow to Valencia, but most important, perhaps the world's biggest chufa fan. Here is a guy who practically bleeds horchata. I was so impressed with his personal passion for the topic that I invited him to write an entry on it himself. Neima first came to Spain (to San Sebastian-Donostia in the Basque Country) back in 2009. But he returned to the horchata heartland, Valencia, in 2011-2012 on a Fulbright Research Grant to study —no, not horchata— antibiotic resistance development in bacteria residing in the gastrointestinal tract of humans, and how that resistance transfers between mother and infant. But he still found time while he was here to explore all aspects of Valencia's most famous refreshment. Below he provides you with a window into the long history and local love of the chufa, and even his own recipe! Following his year here, he will return to the United States to begin his studies on an MD/PhD at the University of Texas School of Medicine at Houston.
|Two large glasses of horchata without sugar (left) and|
horchata granizada (right), which has a frozen slushy
consistency. The dessert shown is a tart made with a
cream from tigernuts.
It is unknown precisely when Valencianos first started squeezing the milk from the tigernut ("chufa"), but written records have accounts of the drink existing as early as the end of the first millennia during the Muslim occupation of Spain. The name orxata, is believed to derive from the Valenciano word ordiata, ordi meaning barley in Latin. However, ask a local vendor at an horchatería in Valencia and chances are they will tell you the local folk story of its origin. It is said that when James I of Aragon (a.k.a. Jaume I) came to the Kingdom of Valencia to help solidify relations before the impending Muslim invasion, he was approached in Alboraya (a small town on the outskirts of the modern Valencia capital city) by a small girl carrying the drink. After sipping the drink, he told the child, "Açò és or, xata!" ("That's gold, darling!"). Whether or not this is the true etymology of the word, for locals the drink is as precious as gold.
|Shown here is the tigernut plant|
(photo from tigernut.com),
a small tuber plant with the tigernut
itself growing in the ground. Harvested
between April and September every
year, fields and fields of it can be seen
on the northern outskirts of Valencia.
A name familiar throughout most of Latin American, up into the southern United States, horchata exists in many forms. Known as horchata de arroz (white rice) to Americans and Mexicans, although similarly prepared, the milk extraction from rice creates its own distinct flavor. The source of the milk varies greatly worldwide, ranging from ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley, or tigernuts. To make local varieties even more distinctive, spices and flavors are commonly added, including an 18 herb infusion in Ecuador, cocoa and nutmeg in El Salvador and jicaro seeds and spices in Nicaragua and Honduras.
|Basket of cleaned tigernuts made available for consumption for patrons at Horchatería Daniel. |
Sold in small packs for individual consumption or in larger bags for making horchata.
|Given the regional craze for all things chufa, there is naturally|
a local organic beer brewed from the tigernut, too.
|Exterior photo of Horchatería Daniel from Hola Valencia|
|Horchatería de Santa Catalina: Beautiful and typically Valencian hand-painted tiles encompass|
horchata drinkers as they enjoy it inside one of Valencia's favorite establishments.
|Its iconic exterior façade.|
|The Falla de Santa Catalina even included a miniature rendition |
of the Horchatería El Siglo in its 2012 falla.
So now that you are addicted to Valencia’s liquid gold, you'll want to know how you can get more when you go home. Luckily, bottled horchata is sold all around Spain in grocery stores. Before you leave Valencia, you might also consider the fact that many horchaterías (and at the airport) sell a condensed horchata, so at home you can turn a one liter bottle into five liters worth of delicious enjoyment. Do you think bottled horchata is just not the same as that overwhelmingly delicious fresh-made hortchata? For those returning to the United States or anywhere in Europe, there is a Spanish food distributor LaTienda.com where you can order food to fill all your Spanish cravings (no need to stuff your suitcase with tigernuts!). They sell a bottled brand of horchata, Chufi.
|Neima Briggs, today's guest author, showing his love of Valencia|
at Sevilla's Plaza de España
That said, I have found making the horchata myself fun and without question well worth the effort. At $18 a bag, you can treat yourself to four liters of horchata spread out over the course of months. Although once made the horchata will go bad after a week, the nuts stay good for two years when placed in a well-ventilated dark space (best in a dry portion of the refrigerator). The recipe is quite simple and, building from years of practice, I have include my recipe below for those adventurous enough to try it. If you are interested, click the link below and keep reading...
Neima’s Horchata de Chufa (1 Liter):
½ lbs of chufa nuts
1 liter of filtered water*
1 stick of cinnamon
¼ lbs of sugar**
Lemon zest (½ of a lemon)
*I usually use Brita filtered water after it has sat out for a day in the fridge to let the added chlorine bubble out (typical in many cities). Just like coffee and tea, the quality of water plays an important role in the flavor.
**The quantity is to personal taste. Many people like an equal weight ratio of sugar to chufa. If you are diabetic or don’t like sweet, horchata without sugar is delicious, so don’t hesitate!!
1. Wash the chufa nuts very well (the nuts are from the ground an often still have dirt on them). Soak for several minutes and scrub nuts with a rough surfaces or metal scrubber. Rinse several times.
2. Soak the chufa nuts overnight in cold water in the refrigerator. After 12-14 hours the nuts should plump up.
3. Rinse the nuts in clean water.
4. Place the clean, plump chufa nuts in the blender along with the lemon zest, filtered water, sugar and lemon zest. If you prefer, traditional recipes call for a mortar and pestle here.
5. Place the concoction in the fridge for an hour, shaking a couple times in between.
6. Run the horchata through a metal mesh strainer in a large plastic bowl. I put two layers of paper towels above the strainer to help remove the smaller particulates. Repeat straining once.
7. Pour horchata from the bowl into a funnel attached to the liter container you wish to use.
8. Enjoy homemade, delicious horchata!
For best results, place horchata in the freezer for 20-30 minutes in the freezer before consumption to make a slightly slushy, Valencian horchata mix. Store in the fridge and shake daily to help prevent the horchata from settling out. Horchata stays good for up to a week, but best in the first two days. The nuts will stay good for up to two years when stored in a well-ventilated, dark area.