A Tale of Two Countries and Two Horchatas

what could be better?

Until recently, if you said “horchata” I would have responded with “Mexico!”  Now, I am not so sure, having sampled the horchata of Spain, which country’s name I’d blurt out.  While there are some similarites, sweet frothy drink, the differences are readily apparent.  Besides, these two countries do not have the monopoly on this drink, as several other nations claim tasty versions all their own.

The Spanish One

The horchata name comes from Valencian Catalan orxata, which itself probably came from ordiata, made from ordi (barley) (Latin: hordeata). The French and English orgeat, the Italian orzata, and the Surinamese Dutch orgeade are all similarly derived, though the beverages themselves have diverged, and are generally no longer made from barley.

fartons for dipping

In Spain, the drink is referred to  as orxata de xufa (horchata de chufa), with chufa being another name for tigernuts.  Water,  sugar, a touch of lemon, and possibly cinnamon complete the tasty and refreshing drink.  This drink is usually served one of two ways:  fresh as seen in the picture at the top of the post, or granizado, mixed with ice so that it has a frozen shake like consistency.  Given that we had the good fortune to visit  when the Siberian winds whipped across the country (I am not making this up, that is what I was told) and it was the coldest winter in 40 years, I did not dare try the second version, but I can imagine that on a hot day it would come close to the perfect thirst quencher.

A Bit of History

Valencia Spain is known as the home of horchata for the country and the use of tiger nuts is thanks to the Muslim presence in Valencia from the 8th to 13th century.  The first use of tigernuts as a beverage is thought to date back to ancient Egyptian times, and evidence show that tigernuts were even included in the funeral trappings of some pharaohs.

According to legend, a young villager from the fertile area of Valencia known as L’Horta offered King Jaume I a sweet, white drink. The King who found it much to his liking asked; “Qué es això?” (What is this?), and the girl replied “Es llet de xufa” (It is tigernut milk). The King responded, “Això no es llet, això és OR, XATA” (This is not milk, this is gold (OR), pretty girl (XATA).

the streets of old own Valencia

Chufa or Tiger Nuts

This critical ingredient for Spanish horchata has found fertile ground near Valencia.  It is a tuber, similar to a peanut, and so the key ingredient is found under ground.  It was first cultivated on the banks of the Nile along the border between Sudan and Egypt, and in Mesopotamia.  It was used as a medicine by the ancient Persian and Arabs.  It was only when the Arab traders brought the tigernuts to Spain in the 7th century, specifically Valencia that it was used in what we know today as horchata.

In the Spanish Style

In Valencia we saw several places that focus on this tasty drink called Horchaterias.  Like tea or coffee houses they focused their energies on one drink – but not to the exclusion of all other.

Horchateria in Valencia

Making a gross generality, I observed that the Spanish do not like to just drink a beverage when something tasty can be dipped into said liquid as is the case with chocolate and churros.  With horchata its fartons or to be honest, just about any puff pastry confection seemed suitable.  Fartons are long skinny, sweet bread rolls often with a light glaze.

a horchata stand in the food market

Latin America’s Delicious Spins

While in some countries the drink is usually “milky”, perhaps because  some recipes call for milk, but many do not. Other typical ingredients include sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Though horchata was once typically homemade, it is now available pre-made in grocery stores, although purists do not consider these versions the real deal.

Mexico:  Perhaps no other country has this drink more strongly associated with it than Mexico.  A google search on horchata brings the Mexican version to the fore.  Coupled with tamarindo and jamaica, horchata (with rice) is part of the trifecta of the three typical drinks (aqua frescas) found in Mexican taquerias and restaurants.  The horchata in the US mainly resembles this version.

El Salvador:  The horchata  primarily made from morro seeds, not rice. Other common ingredients include cocoa, cinnamon, sesame seeds, nutmeg, tigernuts and vanilla. Still other nuts might be added include peanuts, almonds and cashews.

Both Nicaragua and Honduras have horchata known as semilla de jicaro, made from the jicaro seeds ground with rice and spices. The drink is made with cold milk and sugar.

Puerto Rico: Expect the horchata to contain sesame seeds ground with rice, vanilla and cinnamon and either evaporated milk, milk or water. If you want to get creative, some recipes call for coconut milk, allspice and rum.

In Venezuela, horchata is generally called chicha, and the alcoholic variant is called chicha andina.

Ecuador, perhaps seeking to be unique has a horchata that is a clear, red infusion of 18 herbs.

another place to check out

If you like Mexican style horchata, you will really enjoy the Spanish version and appreciate the differences.  To me, many horchatas are too sweet, perhaps to counter the searing heat of the food it accompanies, but with the Spanish versions I sampled the flavor of the tiger nuts came through and I liked the slight grittiness that the drink had.  Enjoy it for yourself.


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17 comments for “A Tale of Two Countries and Two Horchatas

  1. February 18, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    Interesting! I’d love to taste horchata.



  2. February 19, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    I love a good Spanish horchata on a realy hot Summer’s day !!! That is ro refreshing & tasty!
    My husband & I love that drink! 🙂
    Sophie recently posted..Vegan marinated tofu & veggies stir-fry

  3. February 20, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    I only learned of the Spanish type a few years ago when my niece bought some at a Spanish store in the Bay Area for our holiday dinner. It’s so different from the rice-based Mexican horchata. But equally refreshing to drink.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..“Ultimate Guide to Bay Area Dining” — Food Gal’s First App — Plus A Give-Away

  4. February 21, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    How fascinating, once again you’ve taught me something interesting and new! I’ve always thought horchata is purely a Mexican thing…didn’t know there’s a Spanish version as well!

  5. February 26, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    The thought of having a Horchata stand in the local mall (if we had one:) tickles me. I love the stuff, although, I haven’t had one expertly made in years!

    Thanks for sharing, LouAnn…Great shots!
    Louise recently posted..A Cookbook Tribute to the Oscars

  6. February 27, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    I love Mexican horchata!!!It is delicious!
    Erica recently posted..Spaghetti with Shrimp Fra Diavolo

  7. Laz
    February 27, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    Fantastic post. So well-written and researched. Bravo to you. I enjoy a good Horchata. Who does not like tigernuts? Probably the tiger, I guess. Quite painful. Yes, I know I am a 5 year old.

    Another fabulous read.

    Be well

  8. February 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Very interesting post. I didn’t try the horchatas on my last visit to Spain and looks like I need to go back. I have also never tasted tiger nuts, what have I been missing!?

  9. February 29, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    I am benefiting way too much from your trip to Spain! It’s like I’m taking a culinary course. 🙂 Another new one for me, and it sounds amazing! It was always interesting to me how so many specialities from other countries in Latin America failed to make their way to our locale in Brazil. We did experience alfajore from Argentina, but I continue to discover things that were so close, yet so far away!
    Lori recently posted..Mixed Vegetable and Peanut Spring Rolls

  10. OysterCulture
    March 3, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    Rosa – I bet you could get some of the premade stuff to try, it would give you a sense of what it tastes like, but does not compare to the fresh version.

    Sophie – I agree it quenches your thirst – have you ever tried the Mexican version?

    Carolyn – I agree, and its definitely going into rotation in this house.

    Sophia – New to me too! Ah so much to learn, so little time.

    Louise – hmm a stand selling different types of horchata – I see possibilities!

    Erica- I agree, especially the homemade batches.

    Laz – He he! Someone had to say it, it was waiting to be said.

    Sarah – I am with you, there were many samplings I just could not fit in, so I’ve already started an agenda for the next trip,

    Lori – Regarding your comment about foods from other places not making it to Brazil, do you think its a language thing – Spanish elsewhere, Portugese in Brazil?

  11. March 4, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Loved loved Horchata when I lived in Spain but never realised there was so much behind it and that they have travelled across the ocean. Great post!
    ruth recently posted..Italian Foodie experience # 4-Pasta al Forno (Baked Creamy Pasta with Ragu) and of Nonna

  12. March 6, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    I don’t quite get what the flavor of tiger nuts might be like though you make the drink sound divine. The “farton” is so impossible a name that I think that English school children (and myself, obviously, as I remain a child at heart) would go completely wild at an horchateria. I have tried the Mexican version but never the Spanish. Next time!
    Stevie recently posted..taro root and mustard greens soup

  13. OysterCulture
    March 10, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    Ruth – thanks and it was very interesting to do the research

    Stevie – I am not the best person at flavor descriptions, but it reminded me a bit of almonds and walnuts, but it was the smooth taste and slightly gritty texture that worked Plus the drinks we had were touched with cinnamon and lemon so I cannot say what the tiger nut tasted like on its own.

  14. vanessa
    October 24, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Horchata Recipe sesame (Original from Puerto Rico)http://karmafreecookingenespanol.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/horchata-de-ajonjoli/

    I like plenty others use milk instead of water 🙂

    1/4 cup sesame seeds
    1 cup water
    1/2 cup warm water
    2 tablespoons sugar

    Wash and soak the sesame seeds in
    a cup of water for several hours.
    Drain well.
    Blend sesame with warm water
    Squeeze well coloador Use a cloth.
    to express milk and let cool.
    Add sugar and serve with crushed ice .


  15. lula
    February 24, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    actually there is really no such thing as spanish horchata vs latin american horchata, they are both equally spanish, the spanish are the ones that brought horchata to the new world. common misconception that spanish horchata = tiger nuts, actually tiger nut horchata is only one of many horchatas in spain. we have almond horchata, melon seed horchata, sesame horchata, squash seed one, cucumber seed one, hazelnut one, chestnut one, peanut one, coconut one, pine nut one and much more and the mexican horchata is just rice water, a common spanish drink that we call agua de arroz in spain, its just that during the time of the colony , the word horchata included also rice water and barley water but now in modern times no. in central america there is popular horchata de jicaro or morro (its the same plant just different names) which is just a spanish colonial recipe of adaption of new world crops.

    hope this helps

  16. OysterCulture
    March 2, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    Hi Vanessa, thanks for sharing this recipe. This version with sesame seeds sounds delicious!

    Hi Lula, great points, and I agree, and apparently did not do a good job of clarifying that horchata in Spain is not just the tiger nuts. Its just the version I sampled in Valencia. Now with the list you provided, you’ve made me want to go on a horchata tasting expedition. Thank you for sharing.

  17. Iffy
    April 5, 2018 at 11:51 PM

    In northern Nigeria it is called Kunun-aya. Traditionally it is made from tiger nuts and dates. They don’t use sugar or milk. The tiger nuts is some what sweet but the drink is sweetened with dates. Locally tiger nuts are also eaten on its own or roasted with sugar. Northern Nigeria has loads of tiger nuts. They are very cheap. The locals were the only ones that drank it but these days it has gained more popularity because of the quest for healthier drinks and prices are going up.

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