All About Aguas Frescas
Sip on this! Fruity, bright, thirst-quenching recipes (plus tips and history) for one of the most popular beverages in Latin America. You've never seen a more colorful recipe round-up!
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Aguas frescas are one of the most common drinks found throughout Latin America and are a budget-friendly alternative to excessively sweet soft drinks and bottled beverages. While wildly popular in Mexico, aguas frescas are still relatively unknown in the U.S. and with more people than ever cooking at home, there is no time like the present to introduce a few fun facts and delicious non-alcoholic drink recipes to the masses!
Learn all about aguas frescas in the sections below, and then explore delicious recipes to make from scratch at home. We've got the classics covered, and we'll also show you a variety of fun fusion recipes.
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What is agua fresca?
Agua fresca literally translates to fresh, cold, or refreshing water, but literal translations do little to describe the true essence of these fruit-forward and fun drinks.
Aguas frescas are non-alcoholic beverages typically made by blending water and sugar with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Some are also made with dry ingredients such as rice, tamarind pods, and hibiscus, which are Mexican pantry staples.
According to the author and Mexican confections queen, Fany Gerson, aguas frescas have indigenous roots. “When Aztecs traveled from their farmlands to the markets in Tenochtitlan (what is now Mexico City), they would paddle through channels in the valley’s wetlands and mash some ripe fruit with water as a way to refresh themselves through the journey.”
Nowadays, aguas frescas are available just about everywhere in Mexico, from street-side food stands and ice cream shops in rural towns, to high-end restaurants in large cities. They are fresh, diversified, and vibrant and are part of daily life and culture in Mexico.
Which agua fresca flavors are the most popular?
This will always depend on whom you ask, because everyone has a favorite flavor. Popular combinations include limón con chía (lime with plump chia seeds), piña con espinacas (pineapple with spinach), and sandía (watermelon). These can be found in just about any mercado in Mexico and are even available in some Mexican grocery stores in the U.S.
Flavors that are more unique to Mexico include tuna (prickly pear), maracuyá (passion fruit), guanábana (soursop), coco (coconut), melón (cantaloupe), pepino (cucumber), guayaba (guava), and mango. While fruity aguas frescas are typically made daily using seasonal ingredients, there are also popular flavors made with dry pantry staples.
A few other popular agua fresca flavors are made with dry ingredients such as flowers, nuts, seeds, and grains. The “holy trinity” of aguas frescas includes agua de tamarindo, made with dry tamarind pods; agua de jamaica, made with dry hibiscus flowers; and agua de horchata, made with rice and cinnamon. Unlike other aguas frescas, these three can be made year-round because they aren’t reliant on seasonal fruits and vegetables.
What tools, supplies, and equipment do I need to make aguas frescas?
Depending on what you’ll be making, there are a few tools and supplies necessary to get you started on your agua fresca journey:
High-power blender. Many aguas frescas require that the ingredients be blended, so investing in a quality blender is essential.
Mesh strainer. Aguas frescas are meant to be light in texture and therefore require that the ingredients be strained after they are blended. A fine mesh strainer is a must in this process, and a metal one is recommended because sometimes ingredients are hot and will melt right through a plastic strainer.
Citrus juicer. Electric, manual, and hand-held citrus juicers are also helpful when making naranjadas and limonadas (orange and lime-based aguas). When squeezing large citrus fruits to serve a crowd, an electric citrus juicer definitely comes in handy. However, when making a personal batch or when working with key limes (the preferred lime for agua de limón), a small manual squeezer works best.
Measuring cups and spoons. Making aguas frescas is easy, but getting the fruit, water, and sweetener proportions right is important, which is where measuring cups and spoons are key.
Nut bag. Most agua fresca recipes require the use of a strainer, but for agua de horchata and agua de avena, a nut bag can help weed out the chalky rice residue that a strainer might miss.
Vitroleros, pitchers, carafes, and serving glasses. Vitroleros are the large beehive-shaped glass vessels used to display and serve aguas frescas in mercados or at parties. They’re perfect when making aguas frescas for a crowd, but a glass pitcher or carafe does the job when containing smaller quantities of liquid. Pretty glasses loaded with ice are also preferred when serving agua fresca.
Large spoons and ladles. Ingredients in aguas frescas tend to settle as they sit, and therefore large spoons are necessary to mix everything just before serving. If using a vitrolero, a long-handled ladle can be used to both mix and serve.
Pantry staples. In order to make aguas frescas year-round, a few pantry staples to keep stocked include hibiscus flowers, tamarind pods, nuts, rice, and organic cane sugar or your favorite sweetener.
Which natural sweeteners can I use to sweeten my agua fresca?
While granulated sugar (or simple syrup made with granulated sugar) is widely used in most agua fresca recipes, there are a number of natural sweeteners that can also be used.
Natural Cane Sugar. Natural cane sugar is made from sugar cane and is minimally processed, while conventional white granulated sugar may be made from either cane or sugar beets.
Dates. Dates work well to sweeten agua de avena, horchata, and agua de fresa. They are also rich in iron, vitamin B-6, fiber, potassium, and polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds that help the body prevent inflammation. Similar to prunes, they help boost digestion, too!
Agave. Agave can be used as a sugar substitute in most aguas frescas, as long as you don’t mind the slight color change in your drink. Agave is a great sugar alternative, especially for those with diabetes as it has a low glycemic index, which helps to control blood sugar levels. The vitamin B-6 in agave plays a role in how your body breaks down protein and carbohydrates, which can also aid with digestion.
Coconut Sugar. Coconut sugar can also be used in agua de avena and horchata, as it works well with drinks containing cinnamon and spice. Coconut sugar contains many natural minerals including iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. It also has a fiber called inulin, which can help to slow glucose absorption, making this another great sugar alternative option for people with diabetes.
Honey. Honey pairs well with strawberry and lime aguas and high-quality honey is rich in antioxidants, can help lower blood pressure, and is believed to combat against seasonal allergies.
Green Grapes. Green grapes can also be used to sweeten blended aguas frescas and smoothies and they contain vitamin B-6, K, potassium, and manganese.
Piloncillo. Also known as Mexican cone or brown sugar, piloncillo is unrefined and has a delicious, deep caramel-like flavor. It is sold in 6- to 8-ounce cones or tablets and works best with aguas that require boiling, such as jamaica or tamarindo because the cones need to be cooked down into a syrup. Piloncillo is known for its natural elaboration process, which makes it less harmful than artificial sweeteners since it maintains the nutrients found in sugar cane, including magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus.
Recipes for the classics
There are several aguas frescas that are almost always available in mercados and paleterías throughout Mexico. Check out some of the classics below.
Watermelon agua fresca is the quintessential summer drink and one of the easiest to make in a large batch because it is one of the few aguas frescas that does not require straining. Simply blend, stir, and sip all summer long! I call this the agua fresca for beginners.
With just one sip, pineapple agua fresca will transport you directly to a tropical island. It’s the perfect refreshing spring and summer drink for potlucks, BBQs, and picnics.
Banana agua fresca isn’t as common as other flavors, but if you happen to come across it while roaming through a mercado, taste it! Even if bananas aren’t your favorite fruit, they truly shine in this refreshing drink.
This lip-puckering agua de tamarindo is probably one of the most labor intensive aguas to make, but it’s worth the extra effort because any packaged version just doesn’t compare. For anyone who has been turned off by tamarindo soda or other bottled tamarind drinks, this homemade version is 100 times better.
Papayas are a nutrient-rich fruit packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamin C. In Mexico, it is typically enjoyed topped with fresh lime juice and chile salt, in smoothies, or in aguas frescas.
While oat milk is beginning to pick up steam in the American market, its counterpart, agua de avena has been enjoyed in Mexico for generations. There are many variations of this recipe, but this one is dairy-free and free of processed sugars (although recipes with evaporated and condensed milks are equally delicious!).
Unlike cucumber water, which people associate with spas, in this agua fresca, the cukes are blended with sugar and a hint of limón for a refreshing drink that is best served poolside in a cabana.
When people hear the word tuna in a drink, it can solicit weird looks. But the Spanish word tuna actually translates to prickly pear and is a colorful fruit that typically grows on cactus paddles in the summer. Its flavor is a mix of cucumber and cantaloupe. Street vendors in Mexico sell tunas topped with lime juice and chile salt, but they are also delicious when transformed into a vibrant agua fresca.
In this easy agua fresca recipe, large pieces of cantaloupe can be blended and strained, or juiced, to extract the most out of each fruit. Using cantaloupes when they are at their peak sweetness means you can use less (or no) sugar!
This vitamin C-rich strawberry agua fresca is delicious in the summer, but can be enjoyed year-round in the U.S. where strawberries are often in season but always accessible. It’s perfectly delicious sweetened with agave nectar, too.
In Mexico, mangoes are used to make everything from desserts and preserves, to salsas and salads. They are particularly delicious in mango agua fresca and you can add chia seeds for extra fiber, texture, and hydration.
Passion fruit has recently gained attention because it is a rich source of powerful antioxidants and contains high levels of vitamins A and C, which are important for skin, vision, and the immune system. Their sweet-tart pulp can be transformed into a fun libation or dessert and their seeds add fun texture to everything, including this agua fresca.
This recipe combines chia, key lime juice, water, and sugar for a delightfully sour agua fresca with unforgettable textures and flavors (and distinct from American-style lemonade)!
One of the most popular aguas frescas, agua de jamaica is the perfect combination of sweet and tart. This recipe calls for sugar, but since it requires boiling, piloncillo can also be used as a sweetener. Some people add a hint of cinnamon for extra spice, or mint for a bit of freshness.
Recipes for fun agua fresca fusions
While classic aguas frescas are here to stay, these fun fusions are definitely worth trying.
This uncommon combo incorporates the sweetness of strawberries and the earthy flavor of a beet for a flavor that is second to none and perfect for summer.
If you’re a fan of creamy aguas frescas — think agua de horchata or agua de avena — then you’ll love this agua fresca de mazapán. It incorporates the popular De la Rosa Mazapán candy, which adds a light peanut flavor to the drink.
While this may not be an agua fresca you’d find in Mexico or other parts of Latin America, it’s one that can easily be made wherever kumquats grow in abundance. Bonus: It provides just the right boost of vitamins A and C.
A spin on classic agua de horchata, the coffee in this one makes it the perfect morning pick-me-up.
This nontraditional flavor combination makes for a thirst-quenching new drink. Pairing cucumber with chayote results in a light and refreshing agua fresca with flavors reminiscent of honeydew and cucumber. For anyone unfamiliar with chayotes, they’re the pear-shaped fruits typically found near zucchini and are rich in vitamins B and C, folate, and fiber. Combine that with the antioxidant properties in cucumbers and you have a nutrient-rich elixir that can be enjoyed all year long.
Raspberries and prickly pears combine perfectly in this vibrant sweet-tart agua. The hint of lime adds just the right amount of acidity, too.
This dairy-free horchata adds strawberries to the mix for a fun fruity twist. It’s slightly sweet, a little creamy, and perfect to enjoy any time of day.
Since mangoes and strawberries are at their peak sweetness in summer, both fruits combine beautifully in this cooling combo.
Sweetened with honey, this agua fresca hits all the right notes and is packed with vitamin-C, making it perfect to enjoy in winter, spring, summer, or fall.
Morir soñando, or “to die dreaming,” is a uniquely Dominican agua fresca that combines milk and fresh orange juice for a silky, creamy concoction that is truly what dreams are made of.
This fragrant and flavorful drink originated in the Andean regions of Peru and is made with dry purple corn, fruits, and spices. Served over ice, it’s absolutely perfect to beat the heat.
Rarely are sequels as good as the originals but in the case of this pineapple cucumber agua fresca, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Two complementary ingredients — sweet pineapple and fresh mint — work to enhance the flavor of an already delicious drink.
Cucumber’s mild flavor adds extra nutrients, while allowing the delicious flavor of mango to shine in this agua fresca.