NATIONAL BEVERAGES BACK TO BACK – 2: The Spanish Horchata was Born in the Egyptian Pyramids

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By Mary Foran


I’ll always remember sipping Horchata in the summer in Madrid, and I thought you’d like a bit of its history and to compare it to cool treats in the USA. Here you go:


You can’t spend a summer in Madrid without trying Horchata de Chufa, a refreshing drink which originated in Valencia and became popular throughout Spain. There is even a Mexican version made with toasted rice which has a completely different flavor, they say.

The Chufa (Tiger Nut) is a tiny, tuberous root of a Middle-Eastern plant of the sedge family which has its origin in ancient Egypt. Chufa was one of the first domesticated crops and was found in vases in the tombs of the ancient Egyptian Pharoahs. The chufa nut was widely used in Egypt and the Sudan. The Arabs introduced the plant to Spain during the time of the Moorish kings (700 B.C. to 1200 A.D.).  The eastern Spanish province of Valencia was found to be best for growing chufa.

The nut has high levels of iron and potassium, does not contain sodium and is valued for its minerals and vitamins, a healthy treat.

Legend has it that the name Horchata came about in this way: a girl in a little town offered some of the drink to the visiting King of Catalunya and Aragon. Enjoying the drink, the king asked, “Que es aixo? (What is this?).” The girl answered, “Es leche de chufa (It’s chufa milk-which was the original name),” to which the King replied,”Aixo no es liet, aixo es OR, Xata! (This is not milk, this is GOLD, Cutie).”  The word “Xata” in Catalan, which the king spoke, is an affectionate nickname for a girl. The drink became famous throughout the country as Orchata. (The H was added later.)

In the hot Madrid months of July and August, I would sit at a streetside patio watching the tourists and the natives stroll by during the evening paseo, sipping this delicious summer drink and loving every minute of it. If it got too hot, I would cool off under the cascading fountain at the Plaza de Colon, and head back to the Castellana for some more Horchata.

I have missed Horchata so much, I went so far as to find a recipe for it on the internet. They say you can order Chufas online from Spain; in the US, they are grown for cattle feed in the South. If you can get hold of the Chufas, here’a an authentic recipe I found:


1 kg chufas
1 kg sugar
5 liters of water
1 cinnamon stick

1. Clean the chufas very well, rinsing them in clean water.
2. Soak in cold water for 12 to 14 hours.
3. Rinse the chufas again in cold, clean water, changing the water until it is completely clear, then drain off all the water.
4. Mash the chufas or put them in a blender to make them into a soft paste. Add a little water if needed.
5. Add the 5 liters of water to the paste and put in the cinnamon stick. Let sit in a cool place (like a fridge) for 2 hours.
6. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
7. Pass the mixture through a metal mesh filter, then through a wet fine cloth filter and repeat until the strained liquid does not have any large particles left.
8. Place the fine, milky liquid in the fridge and serve cold.
9. Horchata can be served in slushy form by putting it into the freezer, stirring occasionally so that it does not freeze solid.

I’m sure you’ll love this recipe.

In the US, ice-cream (the Italian gelato influence), milkshakes, a flavored ice treat called a slurpee and shaved ice are all summertime treats, along with drinks such as ice teas, lemonade and the proverbial soda pops with plenty of crushed ice. Snow Cones come in all sorts of flavors and are a staple at the many summertime County Fairs. A nice, ice-cold beer from the many craft breweries also can whet your whistle in the summertime heat, which reminds me, have you had a “clara” lately?