“Super drink” horchata and its effects on the gut microbiota
According to a study by researchers in Valencia, Spain, a large glass of horchata every morning for three days is enough to improve the bacterial balance of the gut microbiota.
About this article
It has the color and texture of milk – but it’s not milk. Horchata de chufa is a beverage made from tiger nuts (chufa, in Spanish) originally from Valencia, Spain. Not only refreshing, this drink also promotes the proliferation of gut bacteria beneficial to health.
So concluded researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) after asking 31 healthy adults to drink a glass of horchata (300 ml) with their breakfast every morning for three days. The researchers collected stool samples from the volunteers before and after the experiment. Their aim was to analyze the effects of horchata on the bacteria of the gut microbiota.
Effects similar to those of a high-fiber diet
The results showed that the gut microbiota of all volunteers was positively modified by horchata2.
In general, the new bacterial profiles were similar to those of people following the (sidenote: Mediterranean diet Rich in fruit, vegetables, cereals, oilseeds (nuts) and fish, and low in red meat, saturated fats and dairy products. Lăcătușu CM, Grigorescu ED, Floria M, et al. The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Mar 15;16(6):942. ) or a diet rich in plants. In the volunteers’ gut microbiota, the researchers noted an abundance of bacteria that produce butyrate, a (sidenote: Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) Short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are a source of energy (fuel) for an individual’s cells. They interact with the immune system and are involved in communication between the intestine and the brain. Silva YP, Bernardi A, Frozza RL. The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2020;11:25. ) (SCFA) known for its numerous health benefits.
Legend has it that the beverage received its name in the 13th century from James I of Aragon, who upon tasting the famous drink offered by a young Valencian woman, declared “açò no és ilet, açò és or, xata!” (this isn’t milk, it’s gold!).
For your next trip, here’s a tip to avoid causing a diplomatic incident... and let you order your horchata with peace of mind. Horchata de chufa is a traditional Valencian drink made from rehydrated tiger nut tubers, not to be confused with Mexican horchata, which is made from rice, milk, and cinnamon.
The changes observed also appear to have been dependent on the initial bacterial profile. Effectively, two main groups of microbiota could be distinguished after consumption of horchata, one enriched in Akkermansia, Christenellaceae, and Clostridiales, and the other with a remarkable presence of Faecalibacterium, Bifidobacterium, and Lachnospira. Some of these bacteria were already known for their beneficial effects on health, such as:
- better weight control,
- a reduced risk of diabetes mellitus,
- and improved immune responses,
- among others...
High in resistant starch and polyphenols: viva la chufa!
What explains these changes?
Tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus), from which horchata is made, have a relatively high content of resistant starch. According to the researchers, this compound may “feed’ certain beneficial bacteria, such as Akkermansia, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium, thus promoting their development.
Tiger nuts also contain numerous polyphenols which, thanks to their antimicrobial action, help slow down the proliferation of other bacterial species.
The gut microbiota
1. Naimi S, Viennois E, Gewirtz AT, Chassaing B. Direct impact of commonly used dietary emulsifiers on human gut microbiota. Microbiome. 2021 Mar 22;9(1):66.
2. Selma-Royo M, García-Mantrana I, Collado MC, et al. Intake of Natural, Unprocessed Tiger Nuts (Cyperus esculentus L.) Drink Significantly Favors Intestinal Beneficial Bacteria in a Short Period of Time. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 20;14(9):1709.