The Mexican drink agua fresca (“fresh water” or “cool water”) is made with water and fruit, but it is much more than just water and much different from juice . Fruit juice is typically made by squeezing the liquid from the fruit; it may be somewhat diluted, but it is much more juice than water. Agua fresca starts with fresh drinking water, and the fruit is blended or squeezed into it, resulting in a much lighter and more refreshing drink that is composed mostly of water.
One could say that agua fresca is a versatile drink somewhere between the extremes of straight juice and flavored water. It is tasty enough to be enjoyed on its own (and is typically very thirst-quenching), but it´s also is a great option for sipping with a meal.
Agua fresca can be made from any one (or more) of your favorite fruits, as well as from chia seeds, dried hibiscus flowers, rice, or tamarind—or even from vegetables such as cucumbers, celery, or cooked beets. Homemade agua fresca is made with natural ingredients, which makes it much more healthful than most store-bought drinks. You can also use your preferred sweetener, whether that’s sugar, piloncillo, stevia, or artificial sweetener, so it’s easy to adjust for your own dietary needs.
If you use a granulated sweetener (such as white or brown sugar or piloncillo), keep in mind that these crystallized ingredients take a lot of time and stirring to dissolve into cold water—and even more so when other sweet elements such as pureed fruit are already present. You might want to make a simple syrup (sugar syrup) first or dissolve the sugar in slightly warm water before adding other ingredients.
Fruit Agua Fresca
Agua fresca can be made with virtually any fruit—and you can mix different fruits to make up your favorite flavor combo. Some fruits, such as melon and apples, can be blended into the water after you remove the skins, seeds and stems. Simply cut them into chunks and blend them together with the water.
Berries can be used whole, but sometimes the larger seeds (such as those found in blackberries and raspberries) are a nuisance, so agua fresca using berries may need to be strained before serving. This also applies for some other fruits such as guava and tuna (cactus pear) that have many small seeds that are hard to remove manually, or fibrous fruits such as pineapple
Citrus fruits can be juiced straight into the water, making it quick and easy to whip up a batch without bothering with a blender.
Basic Recipe for Agua Fresca With Fruit
4 cups drinking water
2 cups fresh fruit
1/4 cup sugar (or equivalent in other sweetener)
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
lime wedges for garnish (optional)
In a blender combine water, sugar, and fruit. Puree until smooth. Pour mixture (through a sieve, if desired) into a pitcher or serving container. Stir in lime juice. Taste, then add additional sugar, if necessary. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge.
Serve over ice, if you like—though if you are striving for an authentically Mexican agua fresca you will want to ice the drink in the pitcher rather than in the individual glasses or refrigerate your drink beforehand and avoid the ice altogether.
Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Flower Tea)
Agua fresca made with hibiscus flowers is made a little differently because the dried hibiscus needs to simmer in hot water in order to give up their color and flavor. After the flowers are steeped, the liquid is then cooled and sweetened to make a refreshing drink reminiscent of cranberry juice.
Agua de Tamarindo (Tamarind Water)
The brown gooey pulp of the tamarind pod is tangy and has a mild earthiness that, when sweetened, makes a delicious agua fresca. It takes a bit of work to get the pulp away from the seeds, so use canned tamarind if that is an issue. After you get the tamarind ready, you just blend it with water and sugar.
Chia Fresca (Chia Seed Drink)
Chia seeds are a highly nutritious “superfood” that contain fiber, protein, and Omega-3 fats, which are all very healthy to consume. When you make Chia Fresca, the fresh chia seeds become gelatinous as they soak in the liquid. You can add chia seeds to any agua fresca, simply sprinkle a scant teaspoon of them into the drink, and wait 5-10 minutes. Add ice, stir, and enjoy.
Horchata de Arroz (Rice Drink)
Horchata can be prepared with ground seeds or nuts, but in Mexico it is most commonly is made with rice. White rice is soaked in water and/or milk, then blended it with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes other ingredients to create a surprisingly refreshing drink.
Tepache de Piña (Fermented Pineapple Drink)
While not strictly an agua fresca, tepache is a very similar drink in that it is made with fruit, water, and sugar. The main difference with pineapple tepache (and other similar preparations) is that the sweetened liquid is left to ferment at room temperature for a few days, then served over ice, resulting in wonderfully thirst-quenching beverage with a slight alcohol content.