Horchata is a typical bevereage that you will drink if you travel to Valencia. It´s mainly made from chufas which are known as earth almonds or tiger nuts in English. These nuts take the form of a small knot and can be found protruding from the roots of the juncia avellanada plant. They also look a little bit like hazelnuts. Anyway it is thanks to these nuts that Spain has such a tasty and interesting drink. Horchata, according to the Real Academia Española (equivalent to the Oxford Dictionary) is defined as being a: beverage made from earth almonds or other crushed and squeezed fruits, mixed with sugar and water.
It's possible that earth almonds come from the east of Africa, or south east Asia. There are no documents that confirm this theory, however it's the most widely held by historians.
We know that it was cultivated in Neolithic Egypt, as there have been remains of the plant found in offerings to the Gods. Thanks to archeological studies we also know it was consumed raw or dried and re hydrated.
There are plenty of references of earth almonds in different places of the world throughout history. However the first documented references of earth almond horchata are from a the 18th century, from 1762, the word horchata first appeared in 1732. However a similar beverage was consumed in ancient Egypt, though instead of earth almonds it was made with barley.
There are several legends in regards to the beverage's name. One tells of an Aragonese king in the period of the reconquest. The story says that a peasant girl gave some horchata to the king. The king, fascinated with the drink asked her what it was. She answered "chufa milk" and the king replied "Açò no és llet, açò és or, xata" (this is not milk, this is gold, girl!)
The first recipe of the drink dates back to 1786, in a book published in the end of the 18th century, more specifically in 1786 "Alcaldes de Casas y Cortes" (home and court governors).
Sugar has tendedto be one of the main ingredients in the recipe of the Spanish horchata. However, in recent years, commercial varieties of the drink have started appearing without sugar as people are more concerned about their health. In order to be truly authentic, we do recommend that you keep the sugar in the recipe, and just drink horchata as an occasional treat.
Of course, such a tasty recipe couldn't be restricted to one country and there are a number of variants that exist throughout the world. In Italy and Malta, they make a drink called orzata which is aromatized with the essence of bitter almonds. Meanwhile in France, their version is called orgeat. The drink even made it across the Atlantic to some of the former Spanish colonies. In Mexico, the horchata is made with rice instead, whereas in Cuba and Puerto Rico, it is made using sesame seeds instead.
Horchata is mainly consumed during the long, hot Spanish summers as a cold beverage and is therefore easier to find during this time of the year. Though you can get in supermarkets all over Spain, we recommend tasting the authentic horchata in horchaterías. Why not take a trip to one of these horchata parlours with your fellow classmates!