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Chufa, the super food from Valencia

The tuber or tiger nut is widely used here to make a popular drink: horchata.

Very popular in Spain’s Valencia region, the chufa is the edible tuber produced by the plant Cyperus esculentus, and is known in English as tiger nut. The chufa is used to make horchata, a milky-looking drink that is an excellent thirst-quencher in the hot, humid Mediterranean summers.

 

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 wellbeing. 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, making it a good option for people with intolerance to the latter. It also plays a leading role in cholesterol control, as its high level of oleic acid (77%) is similar to olive oil. And the best part is that it is now available year-round, at very affordable prices.

 

The consumption of chufa was already documented in Ancient Egypt: it seems like the pharaohs appreciated its flavor, and vestiges of the tuber have been found in their sarcophagi. From there, the plant expanded throughout northern Africa and Arab invaders brought it into the Iberian peninsula, where the Mediterranean soil proved to be very well adapted to its cultivation. Because alcoholic drinks are forbidden by Islam, the faithful began drinking chufa milk, which is at the origin of today’s horchata valenciana.

 

These days, the town of Alboraya, just outside the city of Valencia, is the center of chufa production, having a landscape of mile upon mile of chufa fields. Daniel Tortajada, born in Alboraya in 1933, began making horchata for his family, then opened an establishment in 1960 in the ground floor of his own house. In 1979, he inaugurated an horchatería on a road that would eventually come to be known as Avinguda de l’Orxata (Horchata Avenue, in Valencian), connecting Alboraya and Valencia. In 1982, when the Association of Artisan Horchata Makers was founded, Daniel Tortajada became its first president. Since then, two more generations of Tortajadas have taken the reins of the business. The original product is still on offer, but so are innovative byproducts such as chufa cookies and chufa ice cream.

 

Sequer lo Blanch, also in Alboraya, is another famous horchatería and arrocería (an eatery specializing in rice dishes). Its manager likes to experiment with the star product of this land and now serves up such unusual creations as chufa alioli (an oil-and-garlic spread), chufa chocolate and even a chufa beer called Cambra.

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