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Horchata (//; Spanish: [oɾˈtʃata] (listen)), or orxata (Valencian: [oɾˈʃata]), is a name given to various kinds of plant milk beverages of similar taste and appearance. It originated at least as far back as 13th-century Valencia, where it is known as orxata de xufa. In Spain it is made with soaked, ground, and sweetened tiger nuts, but in Mexico and other parts of the Americas the base is white rice. In West African countries such as Nigeria and Mali, it is known as kunnu aya. Different varieties can be served hot or cold, and it is even used as a flavor in other beverages, such as frappé coffee.
History and composition
Horchata, which comes from the Latin term hordeata, which in turn comes from hordeum (barley), is a term related to a Mediterranean tradition of grain-based beverages and also the linguistic root of orgeat syrup. The Valencian or Chufa horchata is made with dried and sweetened tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus). This form of horchata is now properly called orxata de xufa or, in West African countries such as Nigeria and Mali, kunnu aya. By 1000 CE it had spread to Hispania (now Spain) with the Muslim conquest. There are 13th-century records of a horchata-like beverage made near Valencia.
From Valencia, where it remained popular, the concept of horchata was brought to the New World. Here, drinks called agua de horchata or simply horchata came to be made with white rice and cinnamon or canella instead of tiger nuts. Sometimes these drinks had vanilla added, or were served adorned with fruit.
Today, these and other similarly-flavored plant milk beverages are sold in various parts of the world as varieties of horchata or kunnu.
Horchata de chufa or kunnu aya
The drink now known as horchata de chufa (also sometimes called horchata de chufas or, in West African countries such as Nigeria and Mali, kunnu aya) is the original form of horchata. It is made from soaked, ground and sweetened tiger nuts. According to researchers at the University of Ilorin, kunnu made from tiger nuts is an inexpensive source of protein.
It remains popular in Spain, where a regulating council exists to ensure the quality and traceability of the product in relation to the designation of origin. There it is served ice-cold as a natural refreshment in the summer, often served with fartons. Horchata de chufa is also used instead of dairy milk by the lactose-intolerant.
Horchata de arroz
Though horchata de arroz was once typically homemade, it is now available in both ready-to-drink (shelf-stable or refrigerated) and powdered form in grocery stores, principally in the U.S. and Latin America.
Horchata de ajonjolí
Horchata de ajonjolí ("sesame horchata") is made with ground sesame seeds. In Puerto Rico, it is typically made by boiling sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon sticks in water, and then pouring the infusion over ground sesame seeds to be left overnight. The mixture is then strained through a cheesecloth. Some recipes call for added ground rice, ground almonds, evaporated milk, coconut milk, allspice and rum, or barley and lime zest.
Horchata de melón
Semilla de jicaro
In the Central American countries of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica, horchata refers to the drink known as semilla de jicaro, made from jicaro seeds ground with rice and spices such as ground cocoa, cinnamon, sesame seeds, nutmeg, tiger nuts and vanilla. Ground peanuts, almonds and cashews may be added. Because of these ingredients, horchata is usually strained before serving.
Horchata as a flavor
Horchata, as a flavor, makes appearances in ice cream, cookies and other sweets, and other products such as RumChata, an alcoholic tribute to the beverage. Some smoothie shops, cafés, and McDonald's in the U.S. have been experimenting with horchata-flavored frappes.
The name derives from Valencian orxata, probably from ordiata, made from ordi ("barley": Latin *hordeata < hordeum). The Italian orzata, the French and English orgeat have the same origin, though the beverages themselves have diverged, and are generally no longer made from barley.
A charming false etymology recounts that James I of Aragon, after being given the drink for the first time by a local in Alboraya, exclaimed in Valencian, "Açò és or, xata!" ("That's gold, pretty girl!").
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