First of all, what are Chufas|Tigernuts
Chufas, also known as Tigernuts, are edible tubers from the plant Cyperus Esculentus that can be found wild, as a weed, or can be cultivated. They are able to grow anywhere, even under extreme temperature conditions, since they grow underground. Chufas are cultivated in only one city all over Europe, Valencia (Spain), where they have been granted the label “Denominación de Origen de la Chufa”, a certificate that guarantees its Valencian origin and its high quality. Valencian Chufas are smaller than the ones from other countries, but also naturally sweeter, and that is why they are the most suitable to make Horchata (Chufa Milk).
- HISTORY OF CHUFA AND HORCHATA: PAST
2 million years BC: Palaeolithic
Paranthropus Boisei, an early hominin that lived in Eastern Africa. They ate mainly Chufas and obtained 80% of their nutrient intake from Chufas. Required daily calorie intake: 2000 calories.
12000 BC: Paleoindians
The Paleoindians were the first settlers in America during the final glacial episodes of the late Pleistocene period. They used Chufas as part of their diet, and used the external part of the plant to make ropes and strings. Remains of the Chufa plant have also been found embedded in ancient stone tools.
5000 BC – 50 AC: Ancient Egypt
In Ancient Egypt, Chufas were considered sacred and magical seeds not only due to their properties but because they could grow under extreme temperature conditions and plagues. Ancient Egyptians cultivated Chufas. They ate them dried or soaked and used them to make bread and pastries. They extracted the oil to nourish their skin. Images of Chufas have also been found in the wall paintings of several temples and sacred tombs.
1200 BC – 146 AC: Ancient Greece
In Ancient Greece, trade connections with Egypt were frequent and it is likely that this is how Chufas became part of their daily lives as well. In fact, Chufas are mentioned in various classical works from Greek authors such as Homer (The Iliad), Teophrastus (Historia Plantarum), Dioscorides (De Materia Medica) and Plutarch (Moralia: De Osis e Osiris).
509 BC – 476 AC: Ancient Rome
Ancient Romans took on several features of Ancient Greek culture and traditions. Chufas were part of their regular lives as well. Chufas and their digestive and diuretic properties are mentioned in various Ancient Roman books by authors such as Apicius (De re coquinaria), Cassianus Bassus (Geoponica) and Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historiae).
476 BC – 1492 AC: Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, Chufas were used medicinally as it is suggested by the medical articles of that time. For instance, a doctor called Arnau Villanova used to prescribe eating 30-40 soaked Chufas during breakfast to avoid and cure haemorrhoids.
622 AC – 1492 AC: Arabic Regions
Some Arabic authors e.g. the son of Al Awwam (Abú Zacaría) in his book Libro de agricultura described Chufas cultivation process in the 12th century,
In the Arabic regions, they used Chufas as medical treatment and also for culinary purposes; Chufas were believed to have energetic and digestive properties.
1453 AC – 1940 AC: Modern Age
During the Modern Age, several mentions of Chufas can be found in numerous Spanish botanical and agricultural treatises, such as Flora española o historia de las plantas que se crían en España (1762) by José Quer, and Observaciones sobre la historia natural, geografía, agricultura, población y frutos del Reino de Valencia (1795-1797) by Josef Cabanilles.
Chufas and Horchata de Chufa (Chufa Milk) were usually mentioned in cook books and culinary treatises at that time, since Horchata de Chufa consumption had become part of the everyday lives of people in Spain. Although Horchata de Chufa was sold all over Spain it was only in Madrid where you could find approximately 250 fresh Horchata de Chufa stands and selling carts.
Horchata de Chufa was originally sold alongside other typical beverages, such as the “sarsaparilla cordial” and “agua de cebada” (barley water), which both fell into decline due to the industrial production and selling of soft-drinks in the 1950s. Fresh Horchata de Chufas trade survived this setback due to its popularity, but it finally ended during the 60s because of the industrialization boom.
Several decades later, in 2003, a Valencian company called Món Orxata started selling fresh horchata again and therefore those popular selling carts came back to Spanish streets.
- HISTORY OF CHUFA AND HORCHATA DE CHUFA: PRESENT
Nowadays, we can find different drinks called “Horchata” throughout the world, but not all of them are made with Chufas. For instance, in Mexico they make Horchata with rice instead of Chufas, and in some villages in South America they make it with melon seeds or sesame seeds.
In Southern Europe, especially in Italy and Balearic Islands, they make Horchata with almonds instead of Chufa, while in the Iberian Peninsula; horchata is made only with Valencian Chufas.
Horchata de Chufa can be found all over Spain in several stores, supermarkets and coffee shops, while fresh Horchata de Chufa is much more difficult to find. On the one hand, fresh Horchata de Chufa expires earlier than industrial Horchata de Chufa, so the vast majority of establishments prefer the latter. On the other hand, even in coffee shops or stores where fresh Horchata de Chufas can be purchased, it is not rare to find extra watery or sweetened Horchata de Chufa, as well as Horchata de Chufa made with inferior quality and cheaper Chufas from other countries.
Many brands sell industrial made Horchata de Chufa labelled as “fresh Horchata de Chufa” or with “homemade recipe”, even though that is clearly not true. Industrial Horchata de Chufa does not have the same flavour, texture, benefits and properties that fresh homemade Horchata has.
Several contemporary authors, journalists and scientists have written about Chufas, Horchata de Chufa and the history of their consumption and their properties: Pío Font Quer (Plantas Medicinales), Carlos Soriano (Historia de la horchata), Miguel Bixquert (La Horchata de Chufa: Propiedades Saludables y de Prevencion de Enfermedades Digestivas), Carlos Azcoytia (La Chufa y las Hemorroides de Jaume II).
- HISTORY OF CHUFA AND HORCHATA: FUTURE
Consumption of Horchata de Chufa as well as other non-dairy milk drinks is becoming increasingly popular around the world.
– In Valencia, the company Món Orxata sells fresh Horchata de Chufa and has also developed a wide range of food products and cosmetics: Horchata chocolate, Chufa marmalade, Chufa and orange blossom honey, Horchata cream liqueur, Horchata soap, Horchata shower gel, Horchata lip balm, Horchata moisturising cream, Horchata exfoliating cream…
– In Germany, products made with Chufas and Horchata are being developed and sold by product selling companies.
– In France, companies sell these products and promote the consumption of Chufas and Horchata de Chufa.
– In Australia and the USA, Chufas and Horchata de Chufa are considered superfoods and also promote the consumption of both these products, due to their several properties and health benefits.
However, the vast majority of the international companies that trade with Chufas or Horchata de Chufa do not use Chufas from Spain, which have been proven to be of superior quality and naturally sweeter than lower quality Chufas from other countries.
The qualities and properties of Chufas are so numerous and recognised in America that even NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) research and test their properties as a “bio-regenerative life support system” for astronauts in space.
So, what will the future hold?
Since Chufa and Horchata de Chufa consumption are becoming more and more popular and even NASA scientists continue to research their properties, more and more people and companies all over the world will probably start to support both these products. The health benefits and properties of fresh Horchata de Chufa and Chufas (especially Chufas from Valencia) are numerous, but companies need to break down barriers and support organic and healthy products, as well as be innovative and trade not only Chufa and Horchata de Chufa, but several other products made with those goods, exploring the infinite possibilities that Chufas may offer.
The above is a summary translation of a presentation made by Mr A. Monforte from Mon Orxata to the Slow Food Movement at the University of Valencia, 2014.