When I cook a recipe, I use not only authentic ingredients from Spain but also traditional recipes that I modernize or twist a bit to make them more personal and incorporate my style.
During this process, I research the ingredient, the region where it comes from, the first recipes made with it, how it evolved, etc. It is a fascinating trip through the food history in Spain, how the gastronomy has changed and how the society has adapted new ways to cook and new flavours.
I find this part of my work very exciting as I learn a lot, give to my cook authenticity as each dish keep the essence of its roots. And I find out interesting discoveries!
Like when I was researching about the “horchata de chufa” or tiger nuts milk.
The “horchata de chufa” is a popular refreshing drink we have in summer in Spain. Although you can find it now in any supermarket anywhere in the country, the cradle of “horchata” is Valencia region.
In order to make the horchata, chufas or tiger nuts must be harvested, cleaned and slowly dried over a three-month period. They are then ground, releasing the milky juice, and mixed with water, sugar, and sometimes lemon juice before going through a filter process to become horchata. This refreshing drink has a similar consistency to soy or almond milk, but a taste all its own.
Is horchata only a tiger nut drink?
In Spain we refer to “horchata de chufas” as “horchata” and everybody understands that it is made from chufas (tiger nuts). Here it is my first discovery! “Horchata” is any plant-based drink, not only the one made with tiger nuts. Several pieces of research defend this approach, based in the etymology of the word that would come from the Latin hordeata, “hecha con hordeum” (made with barley). As the time went by, the barley was substitute by other ingredients like almonds, rice, etc.
There is an English word to name “horchata” actually; it is orgeat which literally means barley or almond drink. Is that not amazing? Maybe we should start using orgeat instead of almond milk?
When did chufa start to be used as a drink in Valencia area?
There are different theories, some more romantic than accurate apparently.
What it seems it is true is that tiger nuts were already used in Egypt as they were found in sarcophagus and mummies. From Egypt the cultivation of the tiger nut was expanded by the North of Africa, reaching the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily in conjunction with the Islamic migrations of the Middle Ages.
A drink for the middle class
The recipe of “horchata de chufas” doesn´t appear in any Spanish cookbooks until the 18th century. Until then, chufas were used more for what they thought it was their medicinal benefits.
It wasn´t until 1747 when the first recipe of “horchata de chufa” was written in Spanish. Until then, the drink was made with almonds, but it seems that it was much more expensive, so they substituted the almonds for the tiger nuts to make the drink affordable for the middle class.