Tagged agua fresca

Agua de Jamaica and Hibiscus Syrup

Hot hibiscus beverages are one of those things I can’t accept. Hibiscus has a sharp tart flavor which is wonderful cold, but warm, it feels like a molten acid wash exposing a fresh layer to my insides. I exaggerate, as usual, but this weightless flower contains a strong tart flavor. Only a small amount is needed to properly flavor a large batch of agua de jamaica, fortunate as this is an expensive ingredient, usually selling for $8 a pound or more.

Look for hibiscus which is bright in color and dry but still pliable. Even with its considerable tartness, my preference for agua de jamaica is for it to be just barely sweet. There’s no reason to throw away the hibiscus after steeping, not when the flowers could easily be used to flavor simple syrup, the kind hipster mixologists have been putting into pricey cocktails.

I just made your cocktails cooler.

Flor de jamaica. Hibiscus flower.
Flor de jamaica. Hibiscus flower.

Agua de Jamaica

  • 1 cup hibiscus flowers
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 quarts water, divided

Rinse the flowers under running cold water. Squeeze out any remaining water.

Bring one quart water and hibiscus flowers to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to infuse at room temperature for at least an hour.

Strain, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract any liquid from the flowers. Add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Add the remaining quart of water and refrigerate. Consume within three days.

Reserve strained hibiscus flowers.

Hibiscus flowers in simple syrup.
Hibiscus flowers in simple syrup.

Hibiscus Syrup

  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • Reserved hibiscus flowers from Agua de Jamaica

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook until a syrup thick enough to coat the back of a spoon forms, approximately 10 minutes.

The hibiscus syrup will keep for a month, refrigerated.

Mexican Rice Horchata

I know what you’re thinking:

No, please not another horchata recipe. Didn’t the horchata die an agonizing Pinterest-driven foodie death sometime in late 2013?

Yes, it did. And thank all the gods of Mexican food it did. Things can get back to normal now.

No more declarations of ‘Healthy soy-free, gluten-free horchata!’ Only the small amount of dignity I have left keeps me from answering this with ‘Duh.’

No more photogenically sweating glasses of thin while liquid, a ridiculously large stick of cinnamon wastefully garnishing the beverage, as if it’s presence imparts any further flavor.

No more horchata lattes.

No more ‘Horchata! Perfect for Cinco de Mayo!’

No more ‘Sugar Free Horchata!’ sweetened with maple syrup. Sugar is sugar as far as the body is concerned. Maple syrup, granulated, brown, evaporated cane juice. It makes no difference at all in the way the body processes that sugar.

No more trendy non-sense, and back to basics.

Like many things in Latin American food, horchata was a Spanish introduction. And like many things in Spanish culinary traditions, this beverage derives from Middle Eastern origins. The typical Spanish version of horchata is made from chufa (known as yellow nutsedge or tiger nut in English), water and sugar, and is particularly popular in the Valencia region of Spain.

In Latin America itself horchata has a multitude of regional variations, most with the common theme of being a lightly sweetened cold drink derived from an infusion of ground seeds or grains. Rice horchata is more typical of Mexico, though it is not by far the definitive Mexican horchata. I will never tire of saying how regionalized Mexican cuisine is; the spectrum of Mexican horchata variations include dried and fresh fruits, almonds, pumpkin seeds and coconut, as well as the lesser known in this country melon seed horchata, lacking rice altogether.

This is my definitive Mexican horchata, the version I grew up with, slightly sweet, made rich with the addition of evaporated milk and only the smallest hint of vanilla.

Mexican Rice Horchata

Choose long grain white rice, preferably not parboiled (converted) rice, though this is a preference only. Short and medium grain rice have too high of a starch content for horchata and should be avoided.

  • 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2″ piece Mexican cinnamon, crushed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 – 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 to 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Lightly rinse the rice with cold water and pick out any debris. Place rice, 2 cups cold water and cinnamon in container and refrigerate overnight, or at least eight hours.

The next day, place the soaked rice, cinnamon, and granulated sugar in a blender jar, adding just enough of the soaking water to get blender blades moving, process at high speed until as finely ground as possible.

Place the ground rice liquid in a large beverage jug, capable of holding up to 3 quarts. Add the evaporated milk, vanilla extract , and enough cold water to make between 2 to 3 quarts total, depending on personal preference.

Stir or shake very well before serving, and enjoy over plenty of ice. Garnish with some freshly grated cinnamon.

Best if consumed within 3 days.

Home Fermentation: Tepache

I have a ‘zero waste’ kitchen policy, or as close to zero waste as possible. Herb stems are finely chopped, the greens of green onions go into stock, tomato cores fed to my tomato addicted dog. things are pickled, canned, preserved.

One of the best uses for something which is usually discarded is turning the very fragrant skin of the pineapple along with the core into a refreshing and lightly fizzy fermented drink called tepache. And in the case of forgetfulness, a very slightly boozy home-fermented pineapple drink.

Choose a pineapple that is ripe and fragrant, but still firm. Avoid pineapples that are showing white mold between the ridges. If you cannot find piloncillo, the dark unrefined sugar cones easily found in Latin centric grocery stores, use dark brown sugar instead.

Tepache is a five to seven day process at room temperature. The longer the drink is allowed to rest, the more likely it is to develop a slight bit of alcohol. I do say a slight bit, just enough to know it’s there, not enough to get a buzz. Leaving the tepache to rest for longer than a week and a half will result in vinegar; a good, fully formed vinegar takes two or three months. Use distilled, filtered or previously boiled water for this beverage for best results.

Tepache in the first state of fermentation.
Tepache in the first state of fermentation.


Day 1:

1 ripe pineapple, skin and core only
8 cups water, cold
1 – 4″ cinnamon stick
1″ piece of ginger
1 star anise
10 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves

Roughly chop the pineapple skin and ginger. Place in a food processor and chop until about ¼” to ½” in size. Pour the ground ingredients, and any juice they may have released into a clean 1 gallon container. Break up the cinnamon stick, and lightly crush the whole spices. Add to the container, along with the water. Stir well.

Cover the container with a clean dish towel, and secure tightly around the rim with kitchen twine or plastic wrap. Tepache requires air for fermentation, and it is best to prevent any intrusion by fruit flies.

Place the container in a warm place, and allow to rest until day 3.

The mother forming in fermenting tepache.

Day 3:

2 piloncillo cones, or 1 ¼ packed dark brown sugar (8 oz approx.)
2 cups water

Place the piloncillo (or brown sugar) and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow the syrup to cool completely before adding to the fermented pineapple, or the active yeasts may be harmed in the process.

Rest the liquid until white sediment has formed in the bottom, an indication of the fermentation process, as well as a slight bit of fizz in the liquid. Taste the drink every so often, to check on the progress. When you’re satisfied with the results, strain the liquid through a very fine mesh strainer, pushing the solids with the back of a spoon and refrigerate.

Tepache is best served very cold over ice, and really very enjoyable when mixed with a lager or hefeweizen.


Home fermentation is never an exact science, and there are signs that the batch has gone wrong. If the pineapple develops a red hue, it is best to throw it out. A thin white film of mold on the surface of the beverage is normal, as well as some bubbling, both results of the fermentation itself. Trust your sense of smell and taste. If the smell is of anything other than spiced pineapple with slight butterscotch undertones, or the color changes from an amber to something else, changes are, something has gone wrong.