— by Rebecca Johnson, RFT Contributor —
On sight, the color and texture of Horchata fools many into mistaking it for a milky refreshment. Drink deeper, however, and you’ll find a cool, light, sweet nutty liquid, redolent of summers on the terrace, in the plaza, or by the water. At least that’s how Horchata’s biggest fans in the Spanish communities of Valencia and Catalonia prefer to enjoy it.
“Ya tenemos Horchata!” (Horchata now available!) excitedly announce chalkboards of local Spanish bars and cafés, a declaration synonymous with the arrival of the summer season.
Horchata (Orxata in Valencian and Catalan) is made from water, sugar and – the magic, vital ingredient – “chufas,” or “tiger nuts,” introduced into Valencian Spain around the 3rd Century by the Arabs who occupied all of southern Spain at the time. They also invented the delightful drink.
Valencia has always been the only place in Europe where the essential tiger nut is grown, and, as a result, Valencia is the largest producer of Horchata. So proud are Valencians of their Horchata, in 1995, “Chufa de Valencia” (Valencian tiger nut) was awarded the European Protected Geographical Status of PDO – Protected Designation of Origin. This designation protects the tiger nut’s cultivation process and ensure a high quality level that Horchata from elsewhere is not entitled to claim.
Apart from the thirst-quenching refreshing taste of Horchata, the drink also boasts numerous health properties characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, such as its heart-healthy properties such as reducing cholesterol levels. Horchata is also low in calories and high in nutrition. It’s recommended for all age groups, and even those who are lactose intolerants, and pregnant women (it contains more iron and potassium than a single glass of milk!).
Horchata can be found in cafés and bars all over Valencia and Catalonia, but the best place to try it is in a “Horchatería”, where you can buy Horchata by the glass (to drink in) or by the litre (to take home). A visit to your local Horchatería would not be complete without a glass of cool Horchata and a couple of chunky fartons – spongy pastry “fingers” to dip in the drink!
The best place to enjoy a summer horchata is in an horchateria (or orxateria in the Catalan language).
There are many suggestions about the origin of the name of Horchata. The most famous (and certainly my favorite) is attributed to James I of Aragon who, upon tasting the drink for the first time is said to have declared “Això es or, xata!” (That’s gold, darling!)
Whether you agree with King James or not, Horchata is a recognised symbol of summer, and a trip to the Valencia or Catalonia would be incomplete without trying at least one glass…
Where to find great Horchata
L’Orxateria La Valenciana de Barcelona (C./ Aribau 16) is one of the most famous Horchaterías in Barcelona and has been operating for 100 years. Summer sales at this popular spot are dominated by Horchata, Granizado (a slushy ice drink) and fresh ice cream. In the winter, regulars line up for Turrón (nougat) and sweets. They also make a wide range of delicious sandwiches, cakes, pastries, and fartons available to accompany your horchata. www.lavalenciana.com