When the outside temperatures soar, I keep my refrigerator well-stocked with pitchers of freshly made Mexican agua frescas. These simple, fresh water drinks are made from fruits, flowers or grains and are the ultimate thirst-quenchers. Unlike American soda pops and commercially prepared drinks and juices, aguas are naturally-flavored and contain no additives, artificial flavors and colors or high fructose corn syrup. Best of all, they are quick to make and you control the sugar. And if that were not enough, they are super easy on the family budget.
I first discovered agua frescas on the street corners of Mexico at little carts that sell brilliantly colored fresh fruit salad in paper bowls and aguas made from ripe, juicy pineapples, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, limes and other local seasonal fruits.
Here in California we are fortunate to have an abundance of produce that’s perfect for these drinks. The very best source for produce is usually your local farmers market or U-pick field—or harvesting in your home garden. If you end up with more than you can use, trade with your friends and family for greater variety and economy.
Traditionally, Mexican home cooks keep a pitcher or two of cool aguas ready for visitors and thirsty family members. Most don’t stress over the ingredients, using whatever they have on hand. How about watermelon and strawberries? Hmmm, what should I add to that aging cantaloupe half?
One of my favorite drinks is agua de horchata, a hugely popular rice water drink flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. It’s so good that it never lasts long at my house. This agua takes a little longer than the simpler fruit mixtures, because you must soak and soften the rice overnight. The next morning, pour it through a strainer, stir in the water and flavor with cinnamon and vanilla. After a few hours in the refrigerator, you’ll have an amazing low cost drink that has everyone coming back for seconds.
As you adventure into the exotic world of aguas, be sure to try agua de Jamaica (ha-MY-ka), made from dried hibiscus flowers. I was introduced to this tangy drink by our Beyond Wonderful International Home Chef, Mexico, Yolanda Resendiz. She whipped up a batch to cool off our team as we worked in a very hot kitchen. It was addictively good and I downed several tall glasses—then realized that hibiscus is a diuretic. Yolanda giggled and waited for me to return from the bathroom again, and again, so that we could finish cooking our latest recipe in development.
Know that as wonderful as agua frescas are, you must use ripe, flavorful peak-season fruits for good results. Never fall into the fantasy trap that something homemade will be delicious no matter what you put in it. Not so. Be vigilant when purchasing your produce, and don’t assume that just because you find something at the farmers market or the organic produce section of your market it will be good. If you don’t know how to select watermelons, cantaloupes or other fruits, ask you farm vendor or produce person for guidance.
Now get ready for a wonderful selection of Mexican agua frescas—some of the best summertime thirst quenchers around. Enjoy!
Agua de Sandia—Mexican Watermelon Water.
It’s hard to resist this brilliantly colored icy drink on a hot day. Bottoms up!
Agua de Melon—Mexican Cantaloupe Water
Who knew that this delicately fragrant, orange melon could tastes so good in a glass?
Agua de Fresa—Mexican Strawberry Water
Pure summer in a glass—ripe strawberries, a little sugar, water and ice—no chemicals, preservatives or flavor enhancers. More, please!
Limonada—Mexican Lime Drink
There is lemonade and there is limonada—a wonderful twist on an old favorite.
Agua de Horchata (or-CHAT-ah) Mexican Rice Water
Inspired by the Aztecs, this popular drink is made from rice and flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. Prepare to discover a new favorite.
Agua de Jamaica (ha-MY-ka)
Jamaica flowers (aka as hibiscus) flavor this exotic drink that is guaranteed to refresh you on a hot summer days.
Agua de Pina—Mexican Pineapple Water
Ripe, juicy pineapples are key for this popular agua. Try it once and expensive processed juices will be a thing of the past.