It's the middle of July and in Valencia, with this heat, we all feel like a refreshing horchata with fartons. Because yes, in Valencia, apart from our well-known paella, we also have other gastronomic delights characteristic of our land, with horchata (orxata in Valencian) being one of the best known.
It is a sweet drink made from crushed tigernuts mixed with water and sugar and you either hate it or love it. It is usually drunk in summer, when it is hot, in three different ways: liquid, mixed or granizada and it is usually accompanied by sweets called fartons, a kind of long white bun that we dip in the drink.
If you have the opportunity to visit our city and want to try these delicacies, we recommend you to go to Alboraya, the town where they are typical and which is located next to Valencia. There are many famous horchaterias, such as Daniel, where famous people such as Salvador Dalí have passed through.
If someone searches the Internet for the origin of horchata, they will surely end up coming across the famous legend that says that a girl offered this drink to Jaume I (conqueror and founder of Valencia) who thought it was milk and, after giving her a drink, exclaimed: "Açò no és llet, açò és OR, XATA" (Spanish: "Esto no es leche, esto es oro, chata") It is a very nice story, and many Valencians have it as true, thinking that the origin of the Valencian word is part of a play on words.
If we go to the etymology and the dictionary, we find the first surprise, the horchata is that drink made with tigernuts or other fruits, crushed, squeezed and mixed with water and sugar. So, although it seems inconceivable to us Valencians that horchata is made from other fruits, the reality is that the oldest recipe for horchata in history is made from almonds. The most plausible theory is that the word horchata comes from the Italian participle "orzata", which in turn comes from the Latin "hordeata" (made with orzo: barley), although the passage of time would lead to barley being replaced by other vegetable ingredients such as cereals, tubers, almonds, rice, etc. Thus, in its beginnings, horchata was a dark-colored barley water.
About the origin of the tigernut, there is also controversy, since some theories say that it was introduced by the Arabs and others that it is a wild plant; and although it is not clearly documented, it is hard to believe that, as another legend says, the tigernut landed in the municipality of Alboraya twelve centuries ago, when the Arabs moved its cultivation from the remote region of Chuf (Sudan) to Levantine lands, since it is documented that the Arabs themselves mostly confused sedges and tigernuts.
Finally, the first reference to a "tiger nut milk" in history dates back to 1762. It is believed that at that time ingredients such as almonds (much more expensive than tigernuts) were replaced by this other tuber that made this rich drink available to everyone and reached our days.