What is your Favorite Beverage

Although it would be hard for me to choose any single beverage as my favorite, the recent heat wave has made one rise to the top of my list an agua fresca. Agua Fresca, Spanish for “fresh water,” is a traditional drink in Mexico and throughout Central and Latin America. This beverage is also known as aguas de frutas or fruit waters.

As the popularity of this beverage grows in North and South America, so do the number of instant and artificial mixes to make aguas frescas. Do not be fooled. These imitators are nothing like a freshly prepared agua fresca. The refreshing, cooling, delicioso nature of this drink is in its preparation and nothing in a mix can come close to the flavor and mouthfeel of the real thing.

Agua fresca is a beverage made from fresh fruits, grains, flowers or herbs. Fruit is pulped or crushed and mixed with enough water to create fluid consistency. After the mixture is strained, water and sugar are added to give it the desired consistency and sweetness. Grains are soaked in water until soft, pulped and strained. Most grain-based aguas frescas have spices such as clove, cinnamon or vanilla added for additional flavor. Flowers and herbs are soaked to make a tisane to which additional water and sugar are added.

The fresher the ingredients the more succulent and refreshing the agua fresca. A general rule for finding a fresh, home-made agua fresca is to look for an establishment displaying the beverage in large glass containers. Most restaurants that use the agitation dispensers, clear beverage fountains that have the fluids splashing at the sides of the container, also use instant beverage mixes and concentrates. These will generally taste gritty and leave a corn syrup aftertaste in your mouth. These mixes are more reminiscent of Tang, which has nothing fresh or natural in its flavor.

I generally order an agua fresca by choosing a fruit that is in season. Since I live in California, most fruits have a longer growing season that in other parts of North America. You can really taste the difference between a summer sanda (watermelon) agua fresca and one made with out-of-season melons in the winter. During the fall and winter I recommend ordering horchata, Jamaica and tamarindo (rice, hibiscus and tamarind) aguas frescas. Orange and Lemon aguas frescas are also palatable in the winter if you have affordable fresh citrus available in your area. If not, you may be served a reconstituted dry mix in the place of the fresh fruit beverage.

If you are not fortunate enough to live in a region with an abundance of authentic Mexican, Central and South American restaurants, you can easily make aguas frescas in your home. All you need is fresh fruit, water, sugar and a blender. Type the word “agua fresca” into your search engine and you will find a plethora of recipes for various aguas frescas. Try one now at the end of melon season to capture the pure essence of fresh waters.