World Food Spot 5: Horchata, the Elixir of Tiger Nuts

on Monday, January 29, 2007

I read about it in some travel book and was intrigued by the way the writer raved about it. So when I had an opportunity to visit Valencia, Spain, I was on the look out for this mysterious white drink. At first, it looked like I might be disappointed. This drink is popular served ice-cold in the summer and Valencian’s like their horchata made relatively fresh. I was there in winter which was the wrong season for it. Almost at the end of my stay, I found a couple of places that still kept some from the last summer. Although the thought me mad to request the drink in winter, they obliged and served it to me. I imbibed. It was quite unlike anything I had drunk before. This squirrel was bowled over, which I suppose makes it a four paws-up recommendation.

“Horchata” today, is used in reference to several vegetable beverages made from ground almonds, rice, barley or tiger nuts. The name is believed to be derived from the Valencian “orxata”, which itself may have arose from “ordiata” which means “made from ordi or barley. Mexican and Central American horchata is normally based on rice and may be flavored with almond paste, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, orange or lime. The version from Ecuador uses ground sesame instead of almonds while the Salvadorean version includes also cocoa and the Morro seed.

It is clear that the drink in the Americas was brought there be the conquering Spanish. The Spanish in turn were introduced to the drink by the Muslim Moors who controlled Valencia from the 8th to 13th Century. The drink in Valencia was derived from tiger nuts.
The practice of making drinks from tiger nuts is actually believed to have started from the region of Chuf, Sudan where tiger nuts or “chufas” were cultivated.

King James I of Aragon (the Conqueror) captured and liberated the city of Valencia from the Moors on the 28th September 1238. Legend says that since capturing cities was a thirsty business, soon after the King sought liquid refreshment and he was offered a milky beverage by an Arab maiden. He asked the name of the drink and the maiden replied that it was the milk of chufas. Impressed by the refreshing qualities of the drink, he is reported to have replied “Això is not llet, això is OR, XATA” (“This is not milk. This is gold, girl.”). Which is how legend explains the name Orxata de xufes (Horchata de Chufas), which is now used to describe the drink made from tiger nuts.

With regards to an earlier post in which I had mentioned horchata, Tai asked me “what were tiger nuts?” I did not know. Well, I looked it up and surprise, surprise, they’re not nuts at all. Tiger nut, Cyperus Sculentus, is a vigorous plant with leafs in rosettes. They are actually a kind of tuber, like a potato. Most of these tubers are grown today under the strict control of the Regulating Council of the Denomination of Origin, Chufa de Valencia. Only a small group of 16 villages produce the tiger nuts and the village of Alboraia is well known for the quality of the tiger nuts.

Why are they called tiger nuts? Well, they do resemble small nuts. I would like to think that they were named “tiger nuts” on account that these small nuts pack an impressive taste with a kick in it. Try it if you have the chance in eastern Spain. See if you would agree with King James I that it is liquid gold.


Le Nightowl said...

WOW, you've been everywhere :)
I'm impressed with the mass of information you gathered about this beverage.
Recipes, history, geography, botanics & semantics :)
... very very impressive!
I bet everyone will want to taste horchata now :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Thanks for kind words but everyone can dig up the info if they use Google and trade away a couple hours of sleep!

I haven't been to France. :(((

Josie said...

LGS, they look very much like peanuts, don't they? The drink looks wonderful. I'm going to have to go to Spain...!


East of Oregon said...

very interesting!

Becky Wolfe said...

I love that you share so much information, beyond just the taste of the drink (hmm, I see its white in color - weird) But seriously, thanks for sharing the history of it all as well as the photos. If I ever get to spain, or know someone who does, it will be on the list!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Spain has a lot to offer. Worth a visit. It's rare for a drink to be made from tubers. The limited growth range of the tubers mean it will remain a local speciality. Certainly worth trying when you are there.

east of oregon,
I visit your blog often and enjoy the photos. Thanks for the comment.

It is white. I need help?!? But if they come for me, will they be wearing white??

Tai said...

Thanks LGS, that's a great bit of information!

Canada said...

Those are very cool looking nuts. Kind of peanut-like, but the ridges give them more of a striped effect (hence the name?). I'd love to go to Spain, and I will be sure to try out this recommended beverage. Thanks, LGS!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

you are welcome. The real test is in the tasting.

that's the funny thing in that they are actually not nuts but tubers - like potatoes. I don't know why they are called tiger nuts so your suggestion is as good as any.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

They look like things I've seen in the Asian grocery I go to, but then, a lot of things there look like that. And I don't read Chinese. I will see if I can find some and make it from scratch. It sounds like something I would like.

Becky Wolfe said...

they'll put you in a white jacket...and then you'll be eternally happy in your white world. heheheh

Open Grove Claudia said...

Boy that sounds good - I wonder if I can get it here in Denver....

Dave said...

That's a heck of alot of history for a drink! It amazing me how rich the word is so full of tidbits of such history. Thanks for that lesson LGS... I really enjoyed that. :-)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Making it from scratch? I admire your adventurous spirit. Here's the recipe.

Horchata from Chufa

1 lb. Chufas
1 lb. Sugar
2.5 Quarts of Water
1 Cinnamon Stick

Clean the chufas well by rubbing them between your hands while rinsing them in clean water. Repeat until chufas are clean (rinse water remains clean when chufas are rubbed between your hands).

Cover with 4 inches of water and soak for 12 to 14 hours.

After soaking, rinse the chufas again in clean water, changing the water until it is completely clear, then drain off all the water.

Mash the chufas or put them in a blender - to make them into a soft paste. Add a little water if needed.

Add the 2.5 quarts of water to the paste that you have made and put in the cinnamon stick. Let it sit in a cool place (like a fridge) for 2 hours.

Add the sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Strain the mix through a mesh filter to remove the larger particles, and then through a damp fine-cloth filter. If the cloth filter did not strain the liquid enough, there are two options here:

a.) Repeat until the strained liquid does not have any large particles left.

b.) Fold or double fold your damp cloth filter and pass the liquid through the filter slowly.

The smooth milky liquid can be served as is, placed in the fridge to be served chilled later or placed in the freezer, stirring occasionally to prevent it from freezing solid, and served in slushy form.

Tell me how it turns out.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

They'll have to catch me first!!!

Apparently, it is sold in a pasteurized form which keeps well and may be available in supermarkets or specialty shops. Purists will probably snub this version but at least you can try a version of this until you make your way to Espanyol.

You know me, I'm a microbiologist. It's my nature to know a lot about very little. glad you liked it.

squirrel said...

I too was wondering what a tiger nut was, thanks for explaining! And that drink sounds divine!

Matt said...

I just made this at home two weeks ago. I spent some time in Spain and love the flavor. My wife was thinking of rice horchata when she first tried it so it took her a little to enjoy the taste; it is unique. The challenge is getting access to the little tubers. Shipping from Spain can be costly. Try it with an open mind and you will love it. Also, great nutritional value.

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