April 22, 2024


The horchata is living one of its golden ages thanks to the impulse of other vegetable drinks that have been going strong due to the trend to consume fewer products of animal origin. This drink, so summery on the Mediterranean beach in developmentalism, could not imagine seeing its image linked to something so modernuqui and office posturing such as consuming the thousand combinations of coffee that make the most astute waiters tremble when they come together according to what little groups. However, it has even managed to be claimed by the English as an alternative milk a few years ago. It may not be a credit to the British tendency to appropriate things, but the horchata is there: between the neoveganism and nostalgia.

The history of this product has the noble achievement of having one of the most absurd legends about its possible origin. The famous phrase: “Açò és or, xata!” —“This is gold, flat”, in Valencian—, which Jaume I theoretically said in the 13th century to a girl who gave him a taste of the cool liquid and which, like a good story, does not have much documentary basis beyond countless advertising texts. Besides, there are stories about whether the tiger nut was introduced to the Peninsula with the Muslim presence because there is a place in North Sudan that is supposedly called Chuf (brava) or if the Romans already used it to cure diseases.

With the RAE we have come across

When surfing the vastness of the internet, you can find that, according to the RAE, horchata can be made from tiger nuts or other tubers and even vegetables such as almonds or rice itself, which is valid for everything. This was the starting point for the historian Carlos Azcoytia to investigate a few years ago and come to the conclusion that, rather, it must have started to be used around the 18th century. The author cites the research on his blog History of the Kitchen of a historical food journalist from The vanguard, Néstor Luján, who spoke about the subject in a 1980 supplement entitled Drinks for the hot summer.

He chose the book House and court mayors from 1786 as the first times that tiger nut milk is mentioned in Spanish. He also cites the chronicles of Théophile Gautier in the 19th century, who found “with evident pleasure, the tiger nut horchaterías installed in Madrid and distinguished this drink from those that were drunk in those days”, reads the article by Luján . The journalist recounted that, like a good romantic novelist, Gautier was ecstatic and did not stop talking about the product. He ignored all the other soft drinks that were swarming in Spain (barley waters, lemonades, waters flavored with herbs or sugar), which is why he began to create a slightly distorted image from a foreign perspective that was later assumed as his own by the elites. What has been the exoticism of manual.

The thing is that neither Romans nor milks because, according to Luján, classical medicine had historically demonized cold food. He attributed such horrible things to it as “shocks, weakness of the stomach and daughters, stones and kidneys and urination and palsy”, for which reason horchata must not have exactly a good reputation. Another element of truth may be the fact that the use of snow for cooling was not standardized until the 18th century, and it was not until the 20th century that refrigeration did not experience its real boom and reached the whole world. Luján opined in the aforementioned supplement that “the cold manufacturing industry has prevailed and we all delight ourselves honestly and without sinning with cold drinks and frozen pastries as one of the little happinesses that have been in this world.” In other words, how good the dictatorship of the cold.

Exterior of the El Tio Che horchatería, in the Poblenou neighborhood (Barcelona).
Exterior of the El Tio Che horchatería, in the Poblenou neighborhood (Barcelona).Robert B. Fishman (Getty Images)

You either love it or hate it

Tigernut horchata has a peculiar flavor that, like other elements of Valencian gastronomy, arouses very dangerous unbridled passions. There are those who love it and those who can’t stand it because of its particularity. Whoever writes here has had a strange relationship with the concoction to which my paternal family —Valencian settled in Seville for the cultivation of rice— has alluded on various summer occasions and with little success. I always preferred the llet merenga (milk with meringue, cinnamon and lemon). Although I don’t remember having tried it at home, in recent times it seems that we are getting along better.

For the drink to be optimally horchata, and not a stew of things, the aforementioned tuber must be of quality; it’s not worth everything The regulatory council of the designation of origin Chufa de Valencia fights, obviously, for the consumption of local production and to move away from various imports. In its writings, the agency determines that the horchata must have at least “12% soluble solids expressed as °Brix at 20°C (which determines the content of pure sucrose in the water)”. “Its minimum starch content will be 2.2% and fat 2.5%. In total, the sugars expressed in sucrose will exceed 10% ”, he adds. And, of course, both the starch and the fats will come exclusively from the tubers used in the preparation of the horchata and not from additives. This can be a good guide to look at the industrial briks in supermarkets.

To achieve this, in the Horta Nord of Valencia and, specifically, in the town of Alboraia, they take great care cultivating, collecting, pressing and processing (the less, the better) the drink so that it is ready in any of its forms: liquid, granita or frozen – in that the regulatory council does not get involved. It is more difficult to find it in the form of creamy ice cream, but it can be done.

Interior of the Daniel Horchatería, on Avinguda de l'Orxata, in the Valencian town of Alboraia.
Interior of the Daniel Horchatería, on Avinguda de l’Orxata, in the Valencian town of Alboraia. Monica Torres

where to take it

Horchata was born and developed in the Mediterranean, but, as we have seen, in the annals of history it soon spread throughout the Peninsula and in its early days it was easy to find it in popular sales offices in other places like Madrid. Currently, it is said that where they make it good in the capital is in the two branches of Horchatería Alboraya, in the Salamanca neighborhood, one at number 125 Calle Alcalá and the other at 26 Felipe II.

But God forbid us not to mention the Valencian streets where, literally, a giant cluster existed in the eighties on the old highway that linked Valencia with Alboraia and which today is an avenue that is effectively called Avinguda de l’Orxata. Here is the mythical Horchatería Daniel (at number 41), a place of pilgrimage where there are any. Now they also have two locations in the center of Valencia (in the Colón market and in Calle San Vicente Mártir, 7). The Món Horchata street carts, more accessible to tourists, are also well-known in the city.

In Alicante, you cannot avoid going to the Horchatería Azul —at Calle Calderón de la Barca, 38—, and in Barcelona, ​​which also has a great horchatera tradition, you have to choose between the two camps: that of Poblenou, where at the beginning In the 20th century, the Valencian community settled that emigrated to the city before other more numerous groups and reigns El Tio Che (Rambla del Poblenou, 44-46), and that of the Sant Antoni neighborhood, with the power of the Horchateria Torroneria Sirvent (Carrer Parliament, 56).

Basic horchata recipe

  • 250 grams of tiger nut.
  • 1 liter of cold water.
  • 100 grams of icing sugar (or to taste).

The first thing is to buy quality tiger nuts. If they are with designation of origin Tigernut from Valencia, better. You have to leave them to soak for 24 hours and rinse them with new water under the tap. They are crushed in a food processor with half the water (500 milliliters) and the resulting paste is squeezed into a very fine cheesecloth or cloth. This is the most difficult part because you basically have to push a lot. Then it’s time to crush the dough again with the rest of the water and squeeze again. Put the icing sugar – if you want, the one you want – and dissolve it. Chill the horchata in the fridge until serving fresh with a few fartons or with the bun that you like the most.

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