While the Mexican version is better known in many places, Spanish horchata de chufa made with tiger nuts is actually the original and so worth a try. It's naturally gluten free and dairy free, not to mention refreshing and delicious.
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My first taste of horchata was in a cafe in Valencia many years ago now. I was working in Catalunya at the time and travelled down to explore the city for a few days. I instantly enjoyed the gently sweet, creamy drink that was perfect for the warm weather.
For me, when I first discovered the Mexican version of this drink I was a little surprised to hear it was made with rice. It felt almost like a different drink.
But then I thought further: it's really just one of many dishes that has been brought by immigrants and adapted to readily available ingredients. Mexican arroz rojo, for example, is based on Spanish paella. But while paella gets the red color from paprika and/or saffron, the Mexican "Spanish rice" uses tomatoes.
What's the difference between Mexican and Spanish horchata?
Mexican horchata is made with rice while Spanish horchata is made with tiger nuts. Both soak the base ingredient in water to hydrate them and make them softer. Then you blend the softened rice/tiger nuts with water and strain the mixture.
For both, you typically lightly sweeten them and often add a little cinnamon. And the result is a tasty and refreshing drink that's essentially a non-dairy milk that is also gluten and nut-free. So despite different base ingredients, they have a lot in common.
What are tiger nuts?
Tiger nuts, or "chufa" in Spanish, are not actually nuts at all. They get the tiger part of their name due to the striped pattern that you often get on them, and nut since they have an almond-like flavor, but they are actually a tuber. They also go by the name of "earth almonds".
These little roots have been cultivated for centuries and eaten as a chewy snack or ground into a flour. This drink from them is first recorded as far back as the 13th century in the Valencia region of Spain. It's still very popular in the Valencia region where it's on the menu in nearly every cafe in town.
You are less likely to get it in cafes elsewhere in Spain, though you will find a pre-made version in many grocery stores.
While this drink is less known elsewhere, tiger nuts are starting to become a bit more popular again since they are a good source of minerals. They are said to aid digestion and may have other benefits, though they are still relatively un-studied.
That said, they are not without a certain level of natural sugar, carbs and fat, so as with most things, they are one to have in moderation. But for something so refreshing and tasty on a warm day, I'll definitely make an exception for this drink now and then.
Making tiger nut milk
The process to make this drink is really much like many other non-dairy milks in that you soak the tiger nuts in water then blend them up. Strain the mixture well then sweeten it slightly. Tiger nuts are slightly sweet naturally so you don't need a lot, but a little does help the flavor come out.
It may seem like an extra step, but you probably want to blend the nuts with half the water first, strain it, then blend again with the rest. This way, you both break up the nuts a bit better to get more out of them, but also it saves your blender from being too full. But if you have a good blender with a decent capacity, one blend is probably fine.
I've added a little lemon and cinnamon here as these are typical flavors to add, but you can skip if you prefer. Cinnamon pairs well and is nice as a garnish on top as well. Lemon is less common, but does add a nice little freshness to the drink. With both, only add a very small amount as you don't want them to take over.
Spanish horchata de chufa is a light and refreshing drink that's perfect for a warm day. Yes, you need a little planning but it's really easy to make. And for me at least, it transports my back to a cafe terrace in Valencia - join me!
Try these other refreshing drinks
- Hibiscus tea (agua de jamaica)
- Coconut watermelon agua fresca
- Mango lassi (mango yogurt smoothie)
- Plus get more Spanish recipes and drinks recipes in the archives.
Spanish horchata de chufa
- 1 cup tiger nuts 150g
- 2 cups water 480ml, for soaking, or more as needed
- 2 cups water 480ml, for blending (or slightly more eg ¼cup/60ml)
- ⅛ tsp cinnamon or a little more, to taste
- ⅛ tsp lemon zest or a little more, to taste
- 2 tsp sugar or around 1tbsp, to taste
- Place the tiger nuts in a bowl and cover with water and a layer above them, around the first 2cups/480ml listed above. Place in the fridge and leave to soak for 18-24 hours.
- After soaking, drain and rinse the soaked tiger nuts well.
- Place the tiger nuts in a blender with half of the second lot of water (ie around 1 cup/240ml). Blend well until the tiger nuts are broken up and the mixture looks milky and frothy.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, collecting the liquid, then transfer the tiger nut mixture back to the blender. Add the remaining water, cinnamon and lemon zest and blend again.
- Strain the mixture again, adding the liquid in with the first liquid you strained. Press down on the tiger nut grains with the back of a spoon or spatula to get as much liquid out of them as you can then discard the solids.
- Chill the mixture until needed and/or serve with some ice. You can top the glass with a dusting of cinnamon for garnish, if you like.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
I've drawn on a few recipes for reference in this including this Spain on a Fork recipe.