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 King Jaume I: Horchata, “it’s not milk, it’s gold!”


by Rose Maramba


Horchata may not be strictly native to Spain. But it’s been there for centuries. The conventional wisdom is that the delightfully cold and sweet milk which originated in North Africa and is made from tiger nuts was first introduced by the Arabs into Hispania (today the Iberian Peninsula) in the eleventh century. Two centuries later, and with records to vouch for it, a beverage called llet de xufes, i.e., chufa milk, was being produced in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia. So much so that, as truism would have it, your horchata de chufa must be Valencian to be the real McCoy, although calling an horchata de chufa “Valencian horchata de chufa” is going needlessly tautological since practically all chufas are grown in Valencia.

Jaume I: “Açò no és llet, açò és or, xata!”

Popular legend has it that when Jaume I, King of Aragon (1213-1276), came to Valencia, a young maiden offered him a milk-like beverage. On drinking it, His Majesty exclaimed, “Açò no és llet, açò és or, xata (This is not milk, this is gold, xata)!” Thus the origin of the Valencian word orxata, horchata in Spanish. Chata (the Valencian xata) is an affectionate colloquial form of the word woman.

The tiger nut is not a nut, it’s a root.

Because of singular soil and climatic conditions, Valencia is the only place in Spain – and certainly in Europe – where the tuber that produces the tiger nut, which is not a nut but a root, and is “tiger” only because the root has tigerlike stripes on the outside, grows. Specifically, the towns of the Valencian L’Horta Nord area where more than five million kilograms of the chufa are harvested annually, 90% of which are labeled with the denominación de origen (Denomination of Origin).

Chufa farmlands in L’Horta Nord

DO indicates superior quality of a product and its ingredients which in turn reflect the specific characteristics of the geographical location where it is produced. The canon behind the Denomination of Origin is that no other product but the product of the region where it is produced is allowed to carry the name and the DO label.

Arguably the best non-alcoholic thirst-quenching drink in summer, the horchata de chufa boasts numerous health properties of the famous Mediterranean diet. It is low in calories, that is if you don’t count the generous sugar content, rich in vitamins and minerals (Vitamins C and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron), and easy on the stomach as most horchata recipes are gluten-free. There are enough soluble fibers to be had from chufa. The horchata de chufa thus helps regulate blood sugar. It contains unsaturated fats, lending itself to the control of cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Chufas have no glucose and so horchata de chufa is a boon to type 2 diabetics and prediabetics. Beware, however: Added sugar is a definitive ingredient in the making of horchata.

Wouldn’t it be doubly satisfying if one could drink horchata in the land of the chufa?

Here a three of the best-known horchaterías in metropolitan Valencia:

  • Horchatería de Santa Catalina: Wrapped around with its iconic Manesis ceramic tiles, it is one of the oldest horchata shops in Valencia, with two centuries of tradition behind it. Plaza de Santa Catalina, 6. Tel. 963 912 379.

    Horchata de Chufa paired with pastry at the Horchatería Santa Catalina

  • Horchatería Daniel: Its founder, Daniel Tortajada, was one of the prime movers in obtaining the Denomination of Origin for the chufa of Valencia. Personages like the late Salvador Dalí and Rafael Alberti figure among Horchatería Daniel’s clientele. Avinguda de l’Orxata (Avenida de la Horchata/Horchata Avenue), 41. Tel. 961 858 866.
  • Horchatería Panach: José Panach Reira was a chufa planter before he and his wife Amparo Ferrer founded their own horchatería on Horchata Avenue, now managed by his children Amparo, Rosa and José Ramon. José is the inventor and manufacturer of the first mechanized chufa harvester. Avinguda de l’Orxata,   Tel. 961 860 808.

If you’re in Valencia, you might not just want to imbibe the irresistible horchata de chufa. You might also want to visit the horchata museum.

Bottled horchata de chufa

And if you’re in Madrid, one of the best places to savor the drink in leisurely sips is the glassed-in pavilion or the terraza of the elegant Gran Café El Espejo, Paseo de Recoletos, 51. WhatApp 691 141 726.

However, any kiosk in a leafy park anywhere in the country is just as good a place. Perhaps even better since drinking horchata outdoors is one of the best ways to savor summer!

As long as they are covered by the Denomination of Origin, bottled horchatas and horchatas tapped from dispensers at the horchaterías are as good as the artisanal horchata produced right on the farm or at home.


Ingredients (basic)

  • 250 g Valencian tiger nuts
  • 1 L water
  • 100 g sugar (you can adjust the amount of sugar to your taste/needs)


  • Wash tiger nuts. Soak in water for at least 8-12 hours to rehydrate. Agitate intermittently and pour on fresh water every 3-4 hours.
  • Crush nuts in blender, with ½ liter of very cold water
  • Strain and pack resulting paste in cheesecloth or napkin.
  • Add remaining water to the paste, stir, press and sieve.
  • Horchata will keep for two days. Refrigerate at 2ºC.
  • Serve chilled. Better still, with crushed ice.


> Featured image (Guidepost collage): Horchata/Sindrome feliz, CC BY2.0, cropped, framed. Superimposed on Seashore/Kees Streefkerk, Unsplash.
> Jaume I, Source/Photographer: Museu d’Art de Catalunya, PD via Wikimedia Commons
> Tiger nut/Dr. Stanley Kays via Wikimedia Commons. Per Wikimedia Commons: “The authors grant permission to copy and use the image with the sole restriction of giving a mention to the photographer (in this case, Dr. Stanley Kays).”
> Horta Nord farmlands/Espencat, PD via Flickr
> Horchata and pastry at Horchatería Santa Catalina/Richie Dieterheft, CC BY2.0 via Flickr. Cropped. Partial face blotout supplied.
> Bottled horchata/Olybrius, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped.
> How to make horchata (horchata in glass and bottle, chufas in strainer)/Smoothie Recetas, CC BY2.0 via Flickr