Blending fresh fruit, herbs and sweetened water, aguas frescas are a refreshing drink with summertime appeal.
Directly translated, aguas frescas means fresh water, but the drink is much more than that.
With roots in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, the drink has long been popular in predominately Hispanic U.S. neighborhoods. It is typically sold by street vendors, who serve the drink out of large, barrel-shaped glass jars.
In the central San Joaquin Valley, where seasonal fruits are at their peak of ripeness, fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches and strawberries are popular flavors for aguas frescas. It’s a good, thirst-quenching alternative for a hot summer day.
And like many street foods that have gone mainstream, aguas frescas are following that trend. These days, you can find recipes on Pinterest, in The New York Times or on the Food Network.
In Fresno’s scorching summer temperatures, the drink has become a staple for several food truck operators and restaurants, including Casa de Tamales, Taste Kitchen and Meltdown Bistro.
Liz Sanchez, owner of Casa de Tamales, says the drink is easy to make and requires just a few ingredients. You can also make it as sweet, or not as sweet, as you like, but using ripe fruit is a must.
“If the fruit isn’t ripe, the drink won’t have as much flavor,” she says. “And what we enjoy most about aguas frescas is the flavor.”
Sanchez makes several flavors of drink that she offers at her mobile kitchen, including a pineapple-chipotle, watermelon-lemonade, and berry-hibiscus. And unlike other fruit-flavored drinks, aguas frescas often have chunks of fruit in the drink.
The drinks were popular during the Thursday, July 9, CartHop event on the Fulton Mall.
Martin Franco, owner of the food truck Taste Kitchen, has fond memories of his grandmother’s peach aguas frescas. The drink was thick with peach puree and ice cold.
“She always had that on hand during the summertime and it was so good,” Franco says. “I also remember having to give it a good stir because there was a nice layer of sugar on the bottom.”
Franco has toned down the sugar in his drinks that include cucumber-lime, peach-mint and cantaloupe.
Chef Pete Ramirez’s favorite fruit drinks are watermelon-lime and strawberry-lemon. Ramirez, owner of the Meltdown Bistro food truck, says the drinks are a great way to make use of excess fruit. His recipes call for using six to seven cups of fruit.
Ramirez also likes to experiment with new flavors, including a spinach-strawberry-banana drink that he serves to his family.
“It sounds odd,” Ramirez says. “But it is so good.”
Casa de Tamales aguas frescas
By Liz Sanchez
Sanchez has created several recipes using her mint syrup as the base for her watermelon-lemonade, minty-lemonade and pineapple-chipotle-lemonade.
Combine 2 cups hot water and 10-15 springs of mint, including stem. Add 2 cups of sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool completely and marinade for 24 hours or a minimum of four hours. Strain the mint leaves (by this time they should be brown).
Fill a tall glass with ice. Add one part fresh lemon juice, one part mint syrup, two parts water. Garnish with a couple of mint leaves and fresh lemon slices.
In a blender, puree a fresh seedless medium watermelon.
In a tall glass with ice, rub a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass and dunk the rim of the glass in Tajin chile powder. Fill a third of the way with watermelon puree and the rest with minty-lemonade. Garnish with a wedge of watermelon.
Chop two cups of pineapple into 1/2” pieces. In a small bowl, mix together two tablespoons of pineapple juice, pineapple pieces and 2 heaping tablespoons of chipotle puree.
In a tall glass with ice, add a tablespoon of spicy pineapple mixture and fill the rest with minty lemonade. Garnish with fresh mint and lemon wedge. Can easily be adjusted for more or less spice.
Peach-mint agua fresca
By Martin Franco, Taste Kitchen
12 ripe peaches, halved & pitted
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 bunch mint, plus more for garnish
To make the simple syrup:
Place sugar and water in a sauce pot and heat just until sugar dissolves. Add the bunch of mint and let steep until mixture is cool. Strain.
To make the agua fresca:
Place pitted peaches in a blender and puree with some of the simple syrup until smooth. This may be done in small batches, if necessary.
Pour the peach puree into a serving pitcher filled halfway with ice. Add water for desired consistency and more of the simple syrup to suit your tastes. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Cucumber-limon agua fresca
By Martin Franco, Taste Kitchen
2 quarts water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cucumber, peeled & roughly chopped
Place cucumber and lime juice in blender and puree until smooth. Place a fine mesh strainer over a serving pitcher and strain any seeds from cucumber. Add the water and sugar and stir to combine. Serve over ice.
Watermelon-lime agua fresca
By Pete Ramirez, Meltdown Bistro
Six to seven cups of watermelon, washed and cut
1/4 cup of sugar
Juice of one lime
Fill a blender with fruit and add about four cups of water, or about halfway up the blender. Add sugar and lime juice and blend till smooth. Pour the mixture through a strainer and into a pitcher. Add three to four cold cups of water and sweeten to your preference. Pour over ice and add fresh bits of fruit, if you like.