I’ve been walking the streets of Valencia for a few months now and frequently come across little stands selling orxata de València or horchata de Valencia (the former being Catalano/Valenciano and the later Spanish (Castellano) both pronounced or-CHA-ta). I just passed them by, writing them off as a tourist thing.
TJ recently took a field trip with his class to the Valencia Horchata museum in Alboraya. They learned about the Chufa bean (the main ingredient in Valencian horchata), and the history and process of making horchata. As we walk home from the bus stop everyday, we pass a horchata stand. One day last week the woman offered us a sample of chufa beans. To my surprise, I found them pretty tasty and interesting. I noticed they also had an unsweetened version if the drink, so decided to give it a try, and it was pretty good! I’m sure many would prefer the sugary version, but I like the natural earthiness of the unsweetened horchata. We decided to buy some chufa beans and try making our own. (see below)
What is Chufa?
Chufa (pronounced CHOO-fah) is a little pea-sized root of a middle-eastern plant in the “sedge” family. It looks a bit like a dark brown chickpea, and is sometimes referred to as a “tiger nut”.
The Arabs brought the Chufa plant to Spain during the time of the Moorish kings (700 B.C. a 1200 A.D.). In the 13th century the crop spread throughout the Valencian region. Valencia is considered the best environment for growing chufa, and it is currently the only place in Europe where chufa is being grown. The raw chufa bean is crunchy and the taste reminds me a bit of hazelnuts. It’s also very nutritious, being high in iron, potassium, and vitamins E and C.
In California we’re used to Mexican horchata, which you see in most Mexican restaurants in the chilled fountain dispensers. The Mexican type is made from rice and always has cinnamon. Valencian horchata is made from the chufa bean and sometimes has cinnamon. I like them both, but the flavors are very different.
In Valencia, horchata is sold in restaurants with a long donut-like pastry called a “farton” (pronounced far-TONE). I hadn’t tried this combination until yesterday. Since I’m writing a blog post on Horchata I couldn’t possibly do that without trying it with a farton, so I headed down to the Santa Catalina Horchateria. It was quite an indulgence but so worth it!
Valencian Horchata Recipe
- 8 ounces of Chufa beans
- 4.5 cups of water
- (Optional) sugar/sweetener to taste
- (Optional) cinnamon stick (we will try this next time)
Put the chufas and 4.5 cups of hot water in a bowl and blend with an emulsion / hand blender. Since they’re quite dense, the chufas won’t completely dissolve in the liquid.
In our first attempt we made some pretty good horchata, and it’s so easy to make that I’m excited about trying variations and perfecting the recipe.