My appreciation for agua fresca began with a childhood love of backyard BBQs.
As a child, I enjoyed backyard BBQs on the Fourth of July almost as much as Christmas. Seriously, there was something about the combination of perfectly smoked meats dripping with tangy sauces, soul music from the 70s, and borderline drunk adults dancing.
Besides those critical elements, I was also enamored with the punches at BBQs. At your standard BBQ, there were two punch options—”red” punch or lemonade. In the 80s, if you dared to serve Grapefruit juice at a BBQ, someone would have called the cops on you.
As a child, I thought “red” punch and lemonade were literally the only juices you could serve at BBQs regardless of culture or ethnicity.
Going to a BBQ at one of my Latino friend’s home completely changed my perception.
They had lemonade—check. But, there was a strange, creamy white drink I was unfamiliar with as a child—Horchata. Even worse, I didn’t see any “red” punch.
When I asked my friend’s mom if they had red punch, she said she would make some. After my humble request, she did the strangest thing. She put the watermelon in a blender with some mint and agave and offered it to me. I looked at her with “sidiest of all-side eyes” since I never saw anyone throw some watermelon in a blend and call it “red” punch. Any student of “punchology” in the 80s should have known that “red punch” is based on either Kool-Aid or Hawaiian punch. Since my parents raised me with manners, I tried her watermelon-based assault on “red punch.” The combination of watermelon and mint tasted terrific. In fact, it changed my whole perspective on “red punch.”
Fast forward 30 years, as a health-conscious physician, you won’t find me making a sugary “red” punch at a BBQ. Kool-Aid and Hawaiian Punch are ultra-processed foods that I usually try to avoid. However, I can’t turn my back on my “Red” punch past. I now make fruit-based agua frescas whenever I’m entertaining in the summer time. I love watermelon based agua frescas not only because of their taste, but also because watermelons are rich in citrulline and lycopene.
Citrulline and Lycopene are responsible for many of the health benefits of watermelon.
According to a recent meta-analysis, citrulline may help with decreasing blood pressure. Citrulline is an amino acid that can increase Nitric Oxide (NO) levels. The increase in NO is responsible for citrulline’s effect on blood pressure.
Watermelon is also rich in lycopene. Lycopene is the pigment responsible for watermelon’s red color. Lycopene may also offer some protection against developing prostate cancer. Check out my previous post about foods associated with a decreased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Watermelon-mint-ginger Agua Fresca Recipe.
Watermelon by itself is delicious. In this recipe, I added ginger and mint to give the watermelon a hint of ‘freshness’ and offset the watermelon’s sweetness. I recently served the recipe at a hospital cooking demonstration for patients in the Comprehensive Care Center at the University of Chicago. The patients loved the recipe and requested that I put in on my website. Here it is, enjoy!
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.