Last July, I’d traveled to Spain for the very first time, getting to spend five wonderful days in Madrid. In addition to wanting to drink a ton of dry Spanish cider—aka sidra—and try countless tapas, I was also dying to get my hands on a tall glass of traditional horchata de chufa, the predecessor to the Mexican and Salvadoran versions of horchata I’ve come to know and love over the past few decades.
I’d written about horchata de chufa for Saveur magazine many moons ago, and had made it at home, but had always wanted to try it *in* Spain. Enter Horchatería Alboraya, a traditional producer of horchata de chufa that’s been open in the heart of Madrid since 1980. There are several traditional horchaterías in Valencia that are much older—like Horchatería El Siglo (since 1836) and Horchatería Santa Catalina—but I didn’t have time to get out of Madrid, so I was extremely glad to find Alboraya, as I’d long dreamed of trying this chufa magic in its home country.
So what is horchata de chufa and what makes it different? The horchata most commonly found in the U.S. is typically from Mexican restaurants: a rice-based drink that’s spiked with cinnamon and plenty of sugar. Salvadoran versions use morro seeds, sourced from an indigenous plant, that lend a slightly sweet, subtle licorice flavor of their own. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and other flavorings can make their way into other countries’ versions of horchata as well, but they’re all thought to be descended from the Spanish variation, which uses chufa nuts for its base.
Chufa nuts—also known as “tiger nuts” or “earth almonds”—are small, starchy tubers (not actually a nut at all) that grow particularly well in the warm, sandy soils of Valencia, Spain. The chufas are soaked overnight and ground up with water, sugar, and optional spices, though at Horchatería Alboraya, it’s just the chufa, sugar, and water… and it’s divine. Deliciously creamy, sweet, and rich, perfect to pair with the traditional pastries that are often served alongside them: anise-scented breadsticks called rosquilletas (vegan!) and the unfortunately named fartons—long, soft sweet rolls enriched with milk and eggs. They’re typically dusted with powdered sugar, but can alternately have a thin glaze. Both rosquilletas and fartons run on the dry side, making them perfect for soaking up horchata from your glass before each soul-satisfying bite.
Having a texture and heft similar to whole milk, horchata de chufa is refreshing and tasty to the point that you finish the first glass way too fast and chug another, only to have both sink in like a brick twenty minutes later… but nevermind that. It was all worth it. Brochures available at the counter make you feel better, telling you what an excellent source tubers are of fiber and vitamins; you contemplate a third glass and remember that seen with the big fat dead guy in Se7en and you politely settle the bill and walk out feeling like you made the right choice to walk out after just two wonderful glasses, though you’re wondering how on earth you walked right past the display case full of housemade ice creams and dairy-free sorbets.
Sad as I was to leave, I took solace knowing how easy it would be to make my own horchata de chufa at home, and that I could now gauge it accurately against the authentic. And maybe the nostalgic memory of that quaint countertop where I took my first sip will make it taste even better next time.
Spanish Horchata de Chufa recipe
Makes 2 to 4 servings
- 1 1/2 cups dried chufa nuts (source information below)
- 1 quart filtered water
- 1 cinnamon stick, optional
- Sugar, to taste
In a large bowl or container, cover the chufa nuts with the quart of filtered water and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Place the soaked nuts, about half the soaking water, the cinnamon stick, and up to 1/2 cup sugar in a blender. (Chufa nuts are naturally sweet, and may require NO extra sugar, depending on your taste, so start with less and add more if you like it sweeter. If trying to limit your sugar intake, feel free to try several drops of stevia instead.) Blend until well combined.
Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer or the awkwardly named “nut milk bag” set over a bowl to collect the horchata, pressing or squeezing the solids to extract all the liquid. (Ghetto fabulous tip: You can also do this with nylon stockings/leggings/pantyhose.)
Return the solids to the blender along with the remaining half of the soaking water. Blend until well combined, getting all the rest of the flavor out from the chufa nuts and cinnamon. Again, strain the mixture, combining the two runnings of horchata and this time discarding (hopefully composting) the solids. Taste the horchata and adjust the sugar level, if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. Enjoy chilled. Consume within 3 days for best flavor.
Sourcing Chufa Nuts
Chufa nuts can be purchased through the excellent online Spanish food marketplace “La Tienda” or you can get them from two sellers on Amazon.com: the first seller is better priced, but frequently out of stock; the second seller is decidedly pricier and sells in smaller quantity, but is certified organic.
Thanks so much for reading about my visit! I hope it’s inspired you to try horchata de chufa, either in your own kitchen or at an horchatería in Spain! Whatever you do, don’t buy the bottled stuff! It’s dull and flavorless; the heat from the pasteurization kills all the character and vibrancy of the fresh version.
Calle de Alcalá, 125, 28009 Madrid, Spain
+34 915 76 58 17