Horchata Lojana

Ark of taste
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Throughout Latin America, the word horchata refers to various drinks, often based on grains and nuts, and seasoned with sugar and spices. In Loja province, Ecuador, horchata refers to an infusion of herbs that is considered “miraculous.” The original recipe includes 20-30 different plants found in an area around Malacatos and Vilcabamba (in the south of Ecuador) known as the “Valley of Longevity”—it is said that people here often live to be 100 years old or more. Horchata herbs are also cultivated in the small village of Chuquiribamba, but the practice is being abandoned as people seek more lucrative activities.

The herbs that go into horchata can be fresh or dried, and the recipe doesn’t specify particular amounts or proportions, or which herbs must be included. Some of the plants that may be used are: ataco (Amaranthus caudatus), escancel (Aerva sanguinolenta), toronjil (lemon balm, Melissa officinalis), cedrón (lemon verbena, Aloysia citriodora), verdolaga (purslane, Portulaca oleracea), borraja (borage, Borago officinalis), and albahaca (basil, Ocimum basilicum).

Until a few decades ago it was easy to buy horchata lojana (“Loja horchata”) from street vendors in the early morning. The drink was usually sold hot and sometimes with sugar, but could also be consumed cold, with meals, as an energy drink. Horchata lojana is both a tonic and a diuretic.

Women are responsible for the gathering, preparation, and sale of horchata herbs in rural and urban areas around Loja. Lately there has been an effort to market an industrialized version of horchata lojana that does not respect the traditional recipe handed down through the generations. The livelihoods of the women who prepare artisanal horchata are now at risk.

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Tea and infusions

Nominated by:Michelle O. Fried e Greta Contardo