~ A Tale of Two (or More) Horchatas


Horchata. It’s that milky looking liquid you see being churned in a machine at Mexican fast food joints. It’s the amazingly tasty drink made from rice, cinnamon, sugar and water, part of a family of drinks known as aguas frescas.  It isn’t brimming with nutrition, but it sure tastes good. That is, if you’re drinking Mexican style Horchata. Of course, in Mexico, recipes vary from state to state, so there are many creative versions of horchata available, all worth trying. Some are mixed with fruit or others with almonds which definitely helps increase the nutritional value.

They also make Horchata across Central America. In El Salvador, they use the seeds of the morro tree. Crushed with mortar and pestal, the morro seeds are combined with rice. The fruit of the morro tree is otherwise useless to humans, so it is fed to cows. These seeds are available in powdered form, but may already have sugar added and be sold as a horchata mix. The seeds are also available whole in some markets, and they (whoever they are) say that something bad happens to the seeds if you put them in the blender or Magic Bullet. So, if you are in the mood to pulverize something, you might try this drink that is usually left for the ‘viejitas’ or elders to make, presumably because they know how and the younger generation generally doesn’t have the patience for the grind. Some Salvadorans also make horchata from toasted oats, this variety called horchata de avena. It sounds delightful.

Fruit of the morrow tree turns yellow when ripe, but is only used for its seeds.

Fruit of the morrow tree turns yellow when ripe, but is only used for its seeds.

In Puerto Rico, horchata is a similar drink but it is made from sesame seeds and brown sugar. The methods are the same as in Mexico, but the ingredients different. Sesame seeds, known as a symbol of immortality, are the oldest oil seed on earth. Sesame seeds are an excellent source of copper and other minerals, and are known for their property of lowering cholesterol. The Puerto Rican version of horchata makes a delightfully different refreshment.

In Cuba, horchata is made with sesame seeds  or raw almonds. Raw almonds? Isn’t that what we currently consider almond milk? It would seem so (except it’s missing the cinnamon and some of the sugar.) Almonds are known to lower the glycemic index of higher glycemic index foods when ingested together. They also contain healthy fats that inhibit weight gain when eaten in moderation.

So, horchata seems to have traveled around the Spanish-speaking world. Who could possibly be responsible for that? Well, I suppose it must have been those conquering Spaniards. Actually, the region of Valencia, Spain, claims horchata as their own, however their version is not made with rice or sesame seeds or even almonds. It’s made with chufa, known as tiger nuts in English. Chufa is an amazing and ancient super food that hasn’t quite hit the big time here in the U.S. yet. Its time is coming… soon. It was brought to Iberia 4,000 years ago by the Arabs. This pea-sized tuber variety grows in the Valencia region, in Africa and the Middle East.


Chufa has amazing nutritional properties. Full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential amino acids, it is said to do everything from cleansing the liver to helping with digestion to fanning the flames of hot flashes. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is purported to help boost the immune system and prevent colon cancer. It is also suitable to consume for those who have diabetes, and can help people to lose weight. So, what are we waiting for? Bring on the chufa.

But, wait. Where do we find this amazing tuber? Well, just to be sure, I combed the city of Los Angeles from Whole Foods in West L.A. to Luis Market on 42nd Street and Vermont in South Central, and guess what? There is no chufa. Not even available on Amazon.com’s U.S. site. You can also feel free to search your local health food stores and Latin markets, and if you get  lucky and find a source, please let me know. I did find some Tiger Nuts marketed as fish bait, but I don’t even want to go there.

If you’re willing to try this drink of amazing antiquity in its bottled form, it is available at LaTienda.com The nuts are also available there for $18.00/kilo (2.2 lbs.) but they are currently out of stock. Keep checking back.


To read a scientific article that states the health benefits of chufa, click here.

Here’s my recipe for Powered Up Horchata! which will reenergize your body as well or better than any sports drink on the market.




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1 Comment

  1. Reply ~ Horchata Poderosa! (Power Horchata) Mexican Style | Corazon en un Platillo | Heart on a Plate: Recipes and Poetry of Love. We Make Your Favorite Foods... Healthier. August 2, 2013

    […] Horchata is a drink known around the world, and it has been traveling from culture to culture for the last 4,000 years or so. In Mexico, it is one of a variety of drinks known as aguas frescas. There is a subtle delightfulness to this drink, and if you like the taste, it will keep you coming back for more. It pains me to say that the problem with horchata as it’s classically made is that it’s basically a rice and sugar water blend with plenty of calories and little redeeming nutritional value. […]

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