BE FRUITFUL AND LIQUIFY. Three different beverage combinations, all freshly made, wait for customers of Aramark's new AguaFresca concept.
Looking for an innovative drink offering that can boost beverage sales? Maybe you should look south of the border. A traditional Mexican offering called agua fresca (literally "fresh water") may be what you are looking for.
Essentially a water beverage, agua fresca fits nicely into the emerging category of specialty waters—from ionized and ultra purified to " enhanced" and "infused"—that seek to take water from a commodity to a premium product.
Because it uses fresh fruits, herbs and spices—some familiar and some fairly exotic—as key ingredients, agua fresca drinks can also tap into consumer demands for fresh, healthful beverages, and for new flavor sensations.
And, with Hispanics making up an increasing share of the U.S. population, agua fresca's Mexican pedigree delivers a significant existing customer base already familiar with the product (agua fresca stands are common in Mexican cities).
In other words, the perfect beverage trend storm?
So, what exactly is agua fresca? Essentially, it's water flavored with fruit. The basic recipe is simple: mix fresh water with an equal amount of cut-up fruit, puree and strain to remove the pulp, producing a pure liquid (an alternative is to puree and strain only the fruit and then mix the liquid with water).
Then, sweeten with sugar ( authentic Mexican versions are not shy with the sugar) and perhaps lemon or lime juice and/or spices (ginger, mint, cinnamon, etc.).
The fruits that work best in agua fresca recipes are those that are soft and readily pureed—cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberry, mango, watermelon, papaya, ripe pear, etc.
But the beauty of agua fresca, besides its refreshing nature and healthful flavor profile (except for all that sugar), is its vast versatility. While fruits are the most popular flavorings, Mexican tradition has extended the concept to embrace a vast array of not only fruits but vegetables, herbs and spices, and even grains.
Indeed, in Mexico, unusual (to North American tastes) concoctions with ingredients like cucumber, tamarind seed, hibiscus flower, guava and even rice are common.
Agua horchata is a special version of agua fresca that combines finely ground uncooked white rice and almond with water, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla. The powdered rice and almond is blended with water and strained to produce the concentrate that is then used to flavor fresh water. Authentic agua horchata is thick and very sweet.
At least one major American foodservice entity has jumped on the agua fresca bandwagon. Aramark last year introduced its AguaFresca concept in a Manhattan B&I location. FM was impressed enough to recognize AguaFresca with a 2006 Best Concept award (see the March issue).
Since then, Aramark has moved AguaFresca into other urban accounts in Manhattan and Boston, and plans to test it in a suburban account in New Jersey, according to an Aramark spokesperson. The menu, which initially featured three fairly simple fruit/spice combinations, has recently been extended to take advantage of summer fruits.