Agua fresca is a Latin American drink made with water, a small amount of sweetener, and fruit, grains, or flowers. The result is a very cooling, refreshing drink which pairs well with a wide variety of foods and is enjoyable on its own. Agua fresca is associated with Mexican cuisine in particular, and many Mexican restaurants keep several vats of agua fresca by the counter, allowing guests to fill their own glasses as needed. It is also very easy to make at home.
In Spanish, “agua fresca” means “fresh water.” Many people describe the flavor of agua fresca as extremely fresh, especially when it is made with seasonally available fruits. You may also see agua fresca labeled as “fruit water,” in a reference to one of the most common ingredients in this popular beverage. For people who don't feel like preparing it at home, some Latin American grocers sell agua fresca mixes and powders which just need to be mixed with water and chilled to serve.
Some common ingredients in agua fresca include: lime, lemon, cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, guava, hibiscus flowers, mint, and grains like rice, although these ingredients are not used together. In addition to being found in restaurants, agua fresca is also sold as a street snack in many parts of Latin America, and diners typically have a range of flavors to choose from, from sweet and intense horchata, made with rice and cinnamon, to refreshing and crisp watermelon agua fresca.
These drinks are made by pureeing the ingredients with water and then blending in more water and allowing the mixture to chill for at least an hour to develop the flavor. The use of a small amount of sugar is optional, and it can add a depth of flavor to the drink with some people like. A little bit of lime or lemon juice keeps the agua fresca tasting crisp and fresh, and adds a tartness to the overall flavor. When served, agua fresca is typically poured over ice.
When making agua fresca, you want around one cup of fresh fruit to every two cups of water, although you can adjust this ratio to suit your taste. You can add up to one quarter cup sugar to the mix, along with a few tablespoons of lime or lemon juice. These simple drinks are easy to improvise and to change to suit personal taste, so feel free to experiment with a wide range of ingredients and garnishes.