“Warming, drying agent, removes flatulence, strengthens bowels, alleviates colics, is good for vertigo and dizziness, is used in mouthwashes for mouth ulcers and gums”.
This is a quote from Dr. Pío Font in his book ‘Flora Española’, published in the mid-19th century. Today, horchata is no longer used as a medicinal drink, but experts in nutrition recommend it due to its nutritional properties and its refreshing nature especially in the summer.
Horchata is a healthy refreshing drink, highly diuretic and energetic. It is a classic Valencian drink, ideal to try outside on the café terraces in the hot summer months. The main ingredient, the tiger nut, originated in Egypt and was already being cultivated 3,000 years ago. Many people regard horchata simply as a cold refreshing drink, but it is much more than that. It is a rich source of nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin E, minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron as well as starch, unsaturated fats, protein and enzymes that improve digestion.
In fact, horchata contains more iron, magnesium and carbohydrates then milk. Our bodies need refreshment to cope with the demands of the summer. Visitors to the Mediterranean can take the opportunity to try classic Valencian horchata.
Nowadays, horchata is a product with an official quality mark, made in sixteen different towns in the ‘Horta Nord’ area just to the north of the city of Valencia – the only region in Spain with the adequate climate for the growing of tiger nuts, and that gives them a unique sweeter and stronger taste.
The Tiger Nut plant
Tiger nuts grow on the ends of the plant’s long sleek roots. They can be round or elongated and are of a dark-brown colour if harvested late and darker the longer they are left to dry out and stored. The plant requires substantial watering, and is usually harvested during the coldest months of the year.
Once harvesting has been completed, the tuber is stored in containers with chlorinated water, during which time the tiger nut separates from the plant and its skin. It is then completely dried out over the following three months. Afterwards, damaged tiger nuts and impurities are removed.
Horchata is very beneficial to health and is rich in iron. Although the drink comes ready-made, it is ideal to consume outside on hot days. It has a very different taste to the rice horchata (horchata de arroz) consumed in Latin America.
Moreover, it can take several forms – natural, pasteurized, sterilized, concentrated, condensed, frozen and powdered. Another option is as slush (‘granizada’).
Horchata can also be home-made. The tiger nuts are washed thoroughly, and when completely clean they are left to soak in cold water for 12-14 hours.
When the time is up, they are again washed, repeatedly changing the water until completely clear.
The tiger nuts are then drained in a sieve and are crushed, adding a small amount of water so they do not release oil.
(They can also be shredded). Water and a section of cinnamon stick are added, and they are left in a cool place for 2 hours. Then sugar is added, and it is well stirred until completely dissolved and then passed through a wet metal sieve over the colander. This produces a milky liquid which is refrigerated in order to be served cold. It only lasts for 2 days.