Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Gummy bears and milk

My mum doesn't use a lot of milk. The last time I stayed with her the milk she had in was off - very off, lumpy off. She shamelessly offered me almond or soy milk as a substitute. I was appropriately dismissive.

I did once venture to drink some almond milk. I remember it as a sort of grainy vaguely unpleasantly flavoured thick water. I suspect that Maggie thinks of horchata much the same way. Me, well I drink horchata from time to time but mainly as a sort of solidarity gesture with my adopted homeland.

Horchata is made from the chufa, a sort of edible tuber which we apparently call tiger nut - though I've never known anyone who is clear what a tiger nut is - I think the name just sounds sort of comfortable. The chufa is used to make that greyey milky coloured drink that all Valencianos swear is incredibly thirst quenching when it is served cold.

Apparently chufa grows well in North Africa so the Moorish invaders introduced it into Spain when they set up home here for seven centuries or so from the 8th Century. Muslims, and the Moors were Muslims, stay away from the booze and one of their options was the chufa "milk" which is the basis of modern horchata.

All over the Valencian region there are horchaterias, horchata shops. I presume, though I've never thought about it for too long, that each one produces its own version of horchata from the dried tubers. Apparently the nuts are re-hydrated, crushed and sieved to produce a thick liquid which is then mixed with sugar and water to produce the traditional horchata. There are also bottled versions which may be pasteurised, sterilised or given the UHT treatment. Purists say that none of the bottled varieties are as good as the freshly made product. There is even an august body to give the horchata "denominación de origen", the quality mark, to say that it is produced in such and such a way to such and such a standard and so, presumably, to maintain what is considered to be the authentic taste. Like all this traditional food and drink there are recognised centres of excellence and, in the case of horchata, that's the unremarkable town of Alboraya, Alboraia (in Valencian), just outside Valencia city. The area around Alboraia has field after field planted with chufas and people go to the town to drink the horchata "fresh from the fields". Nowadays of course, when anything can be marketed, the local entrepreneurs produce chufa biscuits, chufa flavoured ali oli (a sort of flavoured mayonnaise), chufa chocolate, chufa beer and so on for their foodie tourists.

Yesterday my planning was better than usual. I bought some cheap sweets at the supermarket to take to the cinema later in the day. So far as I could see the 59 cent bag of sweets had no positive nutritional value being coloured and flavoured sugars coated with sugar. I would have a lot of trouble defending my continued consumption of similar products but the bag proudly announced that the sweets contained no fat - that must be good then. Looking for information on horchata I came across a puff piece that described the chufa like this "The chufa is often spoken about as a super-food. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it a nutrient-rich food that is considered especially beneficial to health and well-being. The nutrient-rich tiger nut helps with digestion, it protects the heart, it is an anti-oxidant, it stimulates the immune system, it works as an antacid, and it contains no lactose or gluten. It also plays a leading role in cholesterol control, as its high level of oleic acid (77%) is similar to olive oil."

Whatever its qualities I still don't want horchata, or even chufa milk, in my tea the next time I'm in the UK thanks mum.

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