Curiosités de la horchata valencienne : de l'or au souchet - Cuisine d'Espagne

Curiosities of Valencian horchata: from gold to tiger nut

May 13, 2024

One of the most emblematic culinary treasures of the Valencian Community is horchata or orxata (in Valencian). This refreshing and delicious drink, made mainly from tiger nuts, has conquered the palates of millions of people in Spain and abroad. But what is the origin of its name and what are the secrets of its history?

Why is horchata called horchata?

The story takes us back to the time of King Jaume I of Aragon. Legend has it that upon first tasting this exquisite drink, the monarch was perplexed and asked: "What is this?" The answer came from a young villager who explained that it was “tiger milk”. But the king, surprised by its taste and freshness, exclaimed: “Això és or, xata” (“it’s gold, my beautiful”). This is how the name “horchata” was born, merging the words “or” (gold) and “xata” (beautiful), in an expression that celebrates its precious flavor.

However, another etymological version suggests that the term "horchata" has its roots in Latin and Italian. It comes from the Italian “orzata”, itself derived from the Latin “hordeata”, which means “made with orzo”, in reference to the way horchata was originally prepared.

Origin of horchata:

As noted above, horchata was already known in the 13th century, during the time of James I of Aragon. However, tiger nuts (the main component of horchata) have been found in Egyptian tombs and sarcophagi, where they were considered a delicacy fit for the pharaohs.

This leads us to believe that the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula by the Arabs in the 8th century may have brought this product to the Levantine coast. Or that, to a lesser extent, they favored its production and consumption, if it already existed in the region.

The health benefits of Horchata de chufa:

Rich in nutrients:

- Healthy fats: rich in healthy fats, horchata can contribute to a balanced diet.
- Essential amino acids: contains arginine, an amino acid that promotes the proper functioning of the nervous system.
- Rich in minerals: rich in potassium and low in sodium, it is ideal for maintaining the body's mineral balance.
- B group vitamins: in particular vitamins B1 and B3, essential for energy metabolism.

Aphrodisiac properties:

According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) of the United States, nutsedge tubers possess aphrodisiac effects, as indicated by the designation of origin Valencia nutsedge.
This study, carried out on mice, showed that subjects who had been administered tiger nuts had better sexual performance and an increase in testosterone levels compared to untreated subjects. These properties were also mentioned in a 2011 scientific article, which suggested that tiger nut milk acts as a powerful aphrodisiac, useful for boosting libido and treating erectile dysfunction.

On the other hand, the aphrodisiac properties of tiger nuts have been known since the 12th century, as evidenced by the agricultural treatise “Kitabb al-Fallah” (“The Book of Agriculture”) by Ibn al Awwam. This medical treatise attributes to tiger nuts, among other effects, the ability to increase sperm production. It is suggested that a compound present in Valencian tigernut, and therefore in tigernut milk, may be responsible for this function.

Some scientists suggest that the increase in testosterone levels could be attributed to the presence in tiger nut of quercentin, vitamins and zinc, as these components have been shown to stimulate the production of this hormone. Other experts, however, suggest that the key lies in a compound in tiger nuts called arginine, an amino acid that, under the action of the enzyme oxide synthetase, is converted to nitric oxide. The latter is a vasodilator that promotes the dilation of blood vessels in the genital area, thus increasing blood flow in the area.

The chufa (signet): an underestimated treasure

Tigernut, the basis of tigernut milk, is a versatile and nutritious tuber that has long been underestimated. From its mysterious origins in the lands of Egypt to its role as a key ingredient in the iconic drink horchata, tiger nut has proven to be much more than just a tuber. Thanks to its health properties and delicious taste, tigernut milk remains a gastronomic treasure that has survived the centuries.

In summary, horchata is much more than just a refreshing drink. It is a symbol of the rich history and culinary tradition of the Valencian Community, a delicacy that has enchanted generations and continues to delight those who have the pleasure of tasting it.

Where to buy good horchata?

To buy good horchata from Valencia, Spain, you can consider several options:

  1. In Valencia itself: If you are lucky enough to be in Valencia, you can find delicious horchatas in local horchaterías. These specialized establishments often serve freshly prepared traditional horchata, sometimes accompanied by fartons, a type of typical pastry.
  2. Online: Some companies offer Valencia horchata delivery worldwide. Look for websites that specialize in Spanish products or traditional drinks to find quality options.
  3. Specialty grocery stores: In some major cities around the world, there are grocery stores specializing in Spanish or Mediterranean products. These stores can sometimes import authentic horchata from Valencia.

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