Horchata of rice, barley, almond or melon: the future of the Valencian drink before (and after) the tigernut


There are products and dishes that arouse more national pride than a flag, even more so when they generate nostalgic memories in the form of a popular icon. Smearing their honor creates a massive response of offended, as has happened in Spain with the potato omelette or paella. Horchata, another typically Valencian food, has not been spared the controversy generated by hordes of outraged people.

If a couple of years ago the networks were filled with memes In the face of the audacity of a British company that advertised an "ancient African drink", it is not unusual that, from time to time, someone becomes enraged when they discover other international versions of horchata. Rice, oats, barley ... But, no matter how dear our tiger nut horchata is to us, it is not the only one, nor was it the first. Nor in our country.

Barley drink, the original horchata

You just have to delve a little into the etymology of 'horchata' to discover its original origin. Already in the dictionary of the RAE we can clearly read:

From lat. hordeāta 'made with barley', der. of hordeum 'barley', perhaps through mozar conduit.

  1. F. Drink made with tigernuts or other fruits, crushed, squeezed and mixed with water and sugar.

In fact, in the known as Authorities Dictionary, the first lexicographical repertoire of the Royal Academy, published in the first half of the 18th century, 'horchata' was defined such that:

HORCHATA. (Horchata) s. F. Drink that is made of melon and pumpkin seeds, with some almonds, all crushed and squeezed with water, and seasoned with sugar. Quasi Hordeata is said thus, because most times it is made with barley water.

No sign of the tigernut.

Thus, the term makes direct reference to its first common ingredient, barley, an ancient cereal widely spread in Europe since ancient times, today displaced by other crops such as wheat. As we already saw when tracing the history of polenta and porridge, barley was a common ingredient in the diet, inexpensive and nutritious, with which humble foods were prepared but lacking in flavor.

The original 'horchata' was an ancient drink of water and barley

Ancient peoples praised the medicinal benefits of barley (hordetum), and especially the drink made with it (hordeata). Moisturizing and nourishing properties were attributed to it, recommending its habitual consumption both for convalescent patients and for healthy people. Doctors like Hippocrates and Galen, and authors like Cato the Elder, mentioned this preparation to prevent and treat various ailments.

Nutritious but tasteless, those who could afford it seasoned it with honey or spices, which could increase the benefits. Its popularity spread in the High Middle Ages throughout Europe, adopting different recipes depending on the region and the taste of its inhabitants. Already in the year 1393 a recipe for barley water appeared in 'Le Ménagier de Paris', a kind of manual of domestic life, in which it is indicated how to boil water first before cooking it with barley, licorice or dried figs. The resulting drink was often served with sugar, as long as the budget allowed.

The horchata takes on a life of its own: variants and appearance of the tigernut

It is not surprising that the method of preparing restorative drinks based on any available food was an increasingly widespread and evolved practice, adapting to local customs, tastes and products. Raisins and various herbs were often added in England, and many variants soon became popular.

In many Asian cultures, coconut is the favorite ingredient that has been used for centuries as the base of various drinks, and it is not uncommon to find medieval European recipes with pistachios or hazelnuts, although almonds are the most popular dried fruit as the base of these liquid preparations. reaching its popularity even to China. Also in Africa they are elaborations of very old roots, using seeds, cereals and native fruits, always seeking to make the most of the available products.

From the African continent, the cultivation of tigernut arrived in our country, a very particular tuber imported by the Arabs who settled in the Iberian Peninsula. There are written sources that testify to the elaboration of tiger nut horchata as early as the 14th century, such as the recipe published in the Catalan manuscript Llibre e Sent Soví (1324).

In 1747 the common horchata was not made of tigernuts but of melon, pumpkin or watermelon seeds and almonds. pic.twitter.com/g9IXXgtE2C

- Ana Vega (@biscayenne) June 30, 2016

However, we already know that even in the 18th century tiger nut milk still seemed an exception in Spain. How he collected the Dictionary of authorities, the most common drink was still prepared with melon and watermelon or pumpkin seeds, and also with almonds, always sweetened with sugar. While the recipe with seeds is almost lost today, the almond horchata variant continues to be widely consumed.

The Hispanic conquerors did not bring tiger nuts to the New World, but they did bring sugar, cinnamon, or rice, among other products and crops. It was probably the colonizers who developed the preparation of substitute beverages for those already known in Europe, using the cheapest raw materials they had on hand. In this way, the rice horchata became an extremely popular drink, from which all kinds of variants would arise.

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