Our Coolers Are the Coolest!

By Christine Day

Ninety-five degree heat, stifling, dusty breezes, jostling crowds feverish with activity--for a few pesos south of the border, you can escape it all with a sparkling melon licuado. Or a banana papaya licuado, if you prefer.

Down Mexico way, fruit frappes, called licuados, and aguas frescas, icy fruity refreshers, captivate with vibrant flavors redolent of the tropics. And they're sold just about everywhere, from the tiny, one- cart street vendors to the slick, neon-signed franchised shops similar to our Orange Julius in the United States. Like the siesta, licuados and aguas frescas have become a pleasantly beguiling Mexican pastime.

Based on the tropical bounty of a fruit-laden land, licuados and aguas frescas were born of the happy marriage of fruit and ice.

In Mexico, you'll recognize an official licuado shop by its window emblazoned with the flavors of licuados available. Inside you will find the requisite blender, or stable of blenders, lined up and ready. Eye- catching displays of jewel-tone fruits garnish counters and shelves, and their perfume hangs languorously in the warm air. To make your licuado, the proprietor will cut luscious chunks of ripe fruit of your choice, add a splash of milk or water, a little sweetener, and soon you'll have a heavenly concoction perfect for sipping.

Most common of these fruit coolers are the ubiquitous banana and papaya. Papaya licuados, with their tropical scent and frothy, peachy hue, mixed with banana or on their own, are certain to rejuvenate you on a balmy afternoon.

Besides papaya and banana, licuado shops will tempt you with blushing mango, goiyaba, with its heady, sweetly seductive bouquet, melon, pineapple, chocolate (sometimes made with Mexican chocolate, that ethereal confection infused with a wisp of cinnamon), and even carrot. You might like to sample the whimsically named Vampiro, whose vibrant ruby tint comes from beets, blended with healthy doses of carrot, celery, and orange. While harder to find, tuna licuados are a desert specialty. They are made, not from the yellowfin, but from the winsome fruit of the prickly pear cactus.

Licuados will often contain milk and sugar or honey, but since they're made fresh and sparkling while you wait, simply request water instead of milk, and hold the sugar. Shops always have purified water on hand for this purpose (agua purificada).

Aguas frescas, meanwhile, are on the lighter side. Aromatic flowers, or fruit juice and pulp, are blended with water, lightly sweetened, and served over chunks of ice. The impression is lusciously juicy, and refreshing as no soda pop could ever hope to be.

You'll recognize aguas frescas by the big, clear glass barrels, called jarras, lined up on the counter like sweets in a candy store. Each sparkling glass keg holds a different flavor of aguaa and the tell-tale colors hint at their contents: deep carmine Jamaica (pronounced "hah-mah-ee-kah," made from the essence of a red hibiscus), rosy strawberry, frosty yellow lemonade, musky-sweet melon, and pungent lime.

In addition, several Mexican aguas frescas are concocted from cooked grains and seeds, like milky-white horchata, made from rice, and cebada, a pleasantly-earthy flavored agua made from barley.

Ice cream shops, called paleterias, also offer aguas frescas. Six or eight rainbow flavors, such as coconut, pina colada, and orangey-brown tamarind with its zippy citrus twist, will be ladled from cooled vats. Whatever your taste, there is sure to be an aqua fresca to soothe and delight.

Pre-made aguas frescas almost always contain sugar. If you prefer to avoid sugar, you still can enjoy one if you know where to look. Mexico's abundant orange crop is squeezed-to-order at most shops and restaurants, and ambrosial aguas made from huge, swarthy-skinned mandarins, with their honeyed tang, are a sparkling delight. Just ask that they be prepared without the sugar. Likewise, seek out vegetarian restaurants where the proprietors will be much more apt to make you an agua fresca to order, without additives.

So if you're traveling in Mexico and the hustle and bustle of your itinerary has you yearning for a vacation, just take a fruit break the Mexican way, with a tall cool licuado or agua fresca. Closer to home, you can bring the flavor of the tropics to your kitchen with these easy-to- prepare recipes tailored to our tastes; they are warm weather quenchers in the south-of-the-border tradition.


(Makes 6 servings)

A twist of mint and cinnamon invigorate this frosty pink cooler.

  • 6 cups seeded watermelon, cut in 1-inch cubes (about 4 lbs. with rind)
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk
  • Watermelon balls on skewers, or watermelon wedges,
    tips dipped in finely minced mint (for garnish)
  1. Prepare watermelon and spread on cookie sheet. Place in freezer till frozen, 1-2 hours. Meanwhile, place mint leaves in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover and let steep 10 minutes. Drain mint leaves and place reserved liquid in refrigerator to chill. Discard leaves.
  2. Place frozen watermelon cubes in blender with cool mint liquid, cinnamon, and non-milk. Blend on highest speed till smooth, about 15 seconds. Serve in tall glasses garnished with skewered watermelon balls or wedges.
Total calories per serving: 68
Fat: 1 gram


(Makes 6 servings)

Mexican fresh fruit cocktails are sprinkled with chili powder and lime for a zesty twist. The same technique is incorporated in this refreshing smoothie. You won't miss the tequila.

  • 6 tangerines, tangelos, or mandarin oranges
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple cubes, tightly packed
    (about ½ of a large pineapple), or canned pineapple chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons Fruitsource, rice syrup, or other sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • ⅛ teaspoon mild chili powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Pineapple wedges dipped in chili powder for garnish

Juice tangerines. You should have about 1¾ cups juice. Place in blender with pineapple, sweetener, lime juice, ice, chili powder, and salt. Blend on highest speed till smooth, about 30 seconds. Serve margaritas in goblets garnished with pineapple wedges.

Total calories per serving: 72
Fat: Less than 1 gram


(Makes 6 servings)

Fresh coconut adds super fresh coconut taste. All you need is a tropical beach!

  • 1 small coconut
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • ¼ cup rice syrup
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks with juice, or about ½ of a large fresh pineapple
  • ¼ teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 cups ice
  1. Puncture eyes of coconut with an ice pick, pour out "milk" and place in blender. Crack coconut around its middle and remove shell. With a vegetable peeler, peel brown layer from meat. Roughly chop meat and add to blender with the milk. Blend on high speed to liquefy, about 1 minute. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing liquid out of pulp with a rubber spatula. Squeeze remaining liquid from pulp by hand.
  2. Rinse blender jar. Return coconut milk to blender and add remaining ingredients. Blend on highest speed till smooth, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately in large frosty glasses, garnished with paper umbrellas.
Total calories per serving: 139
Fat: 5 grams


(Makes 6 servings)

A lively agua fresca guaranteed to soothe and refresh.

  • 3 medium lemons
  • 2 teaspoons minced crystallized ginger
  • ½ cup Fruitsource, rice syrup, or other sweetener
  • 1-½ cups water
  • Lemon slices for garnish

Juice lemons. You should have about 2/3 cup juice. Place juice and rest of ingredients in blender and blend till ginger is smoothly puréed, about 30 seconds. Serve in frosty glasses filled with ice. Garnish with lemon slices.

Total calories per serving: 71
Fat: 0 grams


(Makes 6 Servings)

Brilliant, and healthy too!
  • 1 cup chopped raw beets, unpeeled
  • 1 cup chunked pineapple
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • 2 cups pineapple-orange juice
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Fruitsource, rice syrup, or other sweetener

In blender, purée all ingredients till smooth, about 1 minute on highest speed. Strain through fine mesh sieve, pressing juice out of pulp with a rubber spatula. Serve over ice.

Total calories per serving: 104
Fat: Less than 1 gram


(Makes 6 servings)

Sporting a citrusy tang, a scarlet hibiscus flower lends this refreshing cooler its vibrant color. Look for jamaica flowers, sometimes labeled "sorrel," at Mexican and southwestern markets.

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup dried jamaica flowers
  • ½ cup Fruitsource, rice syrup, or other sweetener

Combine all ingredients in a 4-quart pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Refrigerate till cool, then strain and taste. Adjust sweetener if needed. Serve in tall glasses over ice cubes.

Total calories per serving: 64
Fat: 0 grams


(Makes 6 servings)

A creamy but healthy concoction redolent of almonds and spice. The perfect, light alternative to a shake.

  • ¼ cup raw white rice
  • ¼ cup almonds, toasted
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups sweetened vanilla-flavored non-dairy milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Combine rice and almonds in blender and blend to a powder. Bring water to a boil, pour over powdered rice and almonds. Let soak 1 hour. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Strain. Serve cold over ice in tall glasses.

Total calories per serving: 108
Fat: 2 grams

About The Vegetarian Journal and The Vegetarian Resource Group

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 1996 issue of The Vegetarian Journal, published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343
E-mail: vrg@vrg.org