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Horchata: Valencia and Catalonia Summer Gold in a Glass

On sight the colour and texture of Horchata fools many into mistaking it for a milky refreshment. Drink deeper however and you will find a cool, light, sweet nutty liquid, redolent of summers on the terrace, in the plaza or by the water. At least that’s how Horchata’s biggest fans in the Spanish Communities of Valencia and Catalonia prefer to enjoy it.

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“Ya tenemos Horchata!” (Horchata now available!) excitedly announce the local bars and cafés one by one via their chalkboards, a declaration as synonymous with the arrival of this years Horchata as with the start of the summer season.

 

Horchata (Orxata in Valencian and Catalan) is made from water, sugar and - the magic, vital ingredient - “chufas”, or “tiger nuts” in English, introduced into Valencian Spain around the 13th century by the Arabs who occupied all of southern Spain at that time, and also invented the drink.

 

The Community of Valencia in Spain has always been the only area in Europe where the essential tiger nut is grown, and as a result Valencia is the largest producer of Horchata. So proud are the Valencians of their Horchata that in 1995 “Chufa de Valencia” (Valencian tiger nut) was awarded the European Protected Geographical Status of PDO – Protected Designation of Origin, which protects the cultivation process of the tiger nut in order to ensure the consumer a level of quality that Horchata from anywhere else is simply not entitled to claim.

 

Apart from the thirst quenching refreshing taste of Horchata, the drink also boasts numerous health properties that are characteristic of the Mediterranean diet, such as its cardiovascular properties that help to reduce cholesterol levels. Horchata is low in calories and high in nutrition and is recommended for all age groups, as well as lactose intolerants and pregnant women as it contains more iron and potassium than a single glass of milk!

 

Horchata can be found in cafés and bars all over Valencia and Catalonia, but the best place to try it is in a “Horchatería”, where one can buy Horchata by the glass (to drink in) or litre (to take home). A visit to your local Horchatería would not be complete without a glass of cool Horchata and a couple of accompanying stodgy fartons – spongy fingers to dip in the drink!

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There are many suggestions as to the origin of the name of Horchata. The most famous (and certainly my favourite) is attributed to James I of Aragon who, upon tasting the drink for the first time is said to have declared “Això es or, xata!” (That’s gold, darling!)

Whether you agree with King James or not, Horchata is a recognised symbol of summer, and a trip to the Communities of Valencia or Catalonia would be incomplete without trying at least one glass…

 

L’Orxateria La Valenciana de Barcelona (C./ Aribau 16) is one of the most famous Horchaterías in Barcelona and has been running for 100 years. As is typical for an Orxateria, summer sales are dominated by Horchata, Granizado (a slushy ice drink) and fresh ice cream; whilst the winter sales are taken over by Turrón (nougat) and sweets. Omnipresent in L’Orxateria La Valenciana (and many other Horchaterías) however is the wide range of delicious sandwiches, cakes, pastries and fartons available to accompany any refreshment, be it hot or cold. http://www.lavalenciana.com/

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