A Lesson In Aguas Frescas

In the hot summertime, Mexicans reach for a fragrant, ripe fruit juice, freshly dissolved in a blender with ice water to quench the thirst and hydrate the body. Why consume outrageously sugary soft drinks by the gallons, when you can just as easily get hooked on the "real thing": natural fruit with nutrients such as vitamin C and E and antioxidants you can find in fruits such as mangos, canteloupe, and papayas, to mention a few. In Mexico, these natural, fresh fruit juices known as aguas frescas ("fresh waters") are found in open-air markets in gigantic transparent glass jugs, lined up and ready to be ladled into a glass.

Aguas frescas are drunk from the spring until the early fall and can be found in every region of Mexico as well as in the U.S. wherever Mexican culture abounds. They are not exactly smoothies because water and a small amount of sugar are added to the fruit pulp, and they are not just made from fruit, but also from seeds such as tamarindo or chia (a kind of sage grown by the Aztecs). An agua fresca can be made from flowers as well, such as the one called jamaica, made from hibiscus flowers. One of my favorites is horchata, made from rice, originating in Spain, quite possibly via the moorish occupation.

Some great places to find aguas frescas:

• Jugos Acapulco — Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, Calif.
• Paradise Aguas Frescas — Tucson, Ariz.
• Taqueria Jalisco — Clovis, N.M.

If you can't find aguas frescas near you, try making them yourself. To make any basic agua fresca, start out with a very ripe and sugary cantaloupe, or watermelon, mango, or pineapple, for example, and blend one part fruit and two to three parts water. Even with water added, the essence of the fruit in all its glory refreshes the palate. Strain or don't strain, and add sugar to taste. Squeeze limes for a slight citrus punch to the agua fresca and serve cold in icy-frosted glasses.

Click here for the recipe for the Lime Leaf Agua Fresca.

—Gilda Valdez Carbonaro, Dos Gildas for Menuism