Spanish cuisine brought us aguas frescas, water infused with fruit juices or juices from veggies like cucumber. They have a very light, refreshing flavor that’s definitely not just water, but they’re much lighter than a smoothie or even a soda. While many recipes load them up with refined sugar, making them not much of an improvement over soda, the sugar really isn’t important to the flavor. And if you do want a sweet agua fresca, you can just make it with sweet fruits.
Tip #1: take any recipe for agua fresca that calls for sugar and replace the sugar with Splenda or a tiny amount of intensely sweet agave syrup (which is chemically not much better for you than sugar, but you need very little of it to get a similar level of sweetness, so you’ll get a sweet beverage with considerably fewer calories). Honey is another great alternative, which comes with more nutritional benefits than most sweetening options. Evaporated cane juice and turbinado sugar are also better for health than refined white sugar: refined sugar is cane with all the nutrients removed and extra chemicals pumped in, while the more natural sugars are in their non-chemical, barely nutritious form. These less refined sugars are still fattening, but they’re a considerable step up in terms of nutrition from refined sugar, so they also make good alternatives. Use them just like regular sugar.
Tip #2: choose recipes that don’t call for (much) sugar. If you’re watching calories or carbs (fruit calories are mostly carbs, so it’s the same battle either way), be aware which fruits are more or less sugar dense than others. Oranges are loaded with sugar, as are most berries and grapes. Melons tend to be lightly sweet. Use this chart to get an idea and then choose recipes that fit in with your taste and your eating habits. You can make a wonderful infused water beverage with nothing but cucumbers and lime, for example. No sugar required!
Tip #3: pick recipes that are already loaded with natural sugar so no sugar needs to be added. Try berries and orange juice, for example – you’ll be surprised how sweet it is without adding any kind of sweetener. Recipes featuring berries or grapes will be very sweet, and should only require light sweetening if the berries you use are a little too tart.
The simplest way to infuse water with fruit or veggie juices is Sangria-style: chop up the fruit or veggies, put them in a pitcher of water, put the pitcher in the fridge for two hours, and you get water infused with delicious light flavor. These are practically zero calories and carbs, but may be too low on flavor for some palates.
Some of the more flavorful recipes: the peach agua fresca, which offers several alternative suggestions involving strawberries, various melons and a cucumber/lime combination. Also the watermelon lime combination.
You can invent your own recipes for fruit-infused water if you understand the basics of how it’s done: you want to puree the fruit, water and other ingredients together, then strain it through a fine sieve to get out all the pulp, leaving you with a translucent drink. Not every recipe online mentions this: if you don’t strain, you’ll end up with a little texture to the drink. Of course, if you like pulp, go for it!
You can also infuse with herbs and even flowers. Herbs like mint and rosemary can add intense flavor just by steeping in a pitcher in the fridge for two hours. Mint is delicious alone or with juices like pineapple or in cucumber or cucumber-citrus combinations. Lavender, rose and other edible flower petals can stand alone or contrast with herbs and fruits.