Horchata is a popular Latin American rice-based drink. This sweetened cinnamon-vanilla beverage is common in the Mexican taquerias that pepper San Antonio, Texas, the city I now call home.
Scan any restaurant that specializes in authentic Mexican food and you’re sure to find a machine that has this white liquid bubbling away inside. Its creaminess and cooling powers make it the ideal counterpart for the spicy salsas and chilies common to this part of the world.
Horchata de arroz (rice) morphed from the orxchata, which is Spanish in origin. Many Spanish speaking countries have their own versions of a grain-based drink, Puerto Rico has one made from sesame seeds, but this version made with rice seems to be the most popular and commonly known.
It’s so easy to make horchata from scratch! You probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry already, so I urge you to give it a shot and make horchata at home.
WHAT’S IN HORCHATA?
For all the complexities of its flavor—it’s creamy, earthy, refreshing, and spiced—horchata’s ingredients are really quite simple. The main ingredient is technically water, the second being rice, of course. But cinnamon and vanilla are both used as supporting flavors to pull the two together in a drink that tastes more complex than it really is.
Milk and granulated sugar are commonly added to the rice water base. The milk and sugar sweeten and put the figurative bow on the drink. I use sweetened condensed milk instead. For me, ease and efficiency reign supreme, so I’m killing two ingredient birds with one stone.
WHAT DOES HORCHATA TASTE LIKE?
Despite the fact that it doesn’t contain nuts, horchata has a nutty flavor. For me, Horchata should taste milky with a hint of that nuttiness.
Cinnamon and vanilla should only kiss your taste buds, not be the prominent flavor of horchata. Horchata’s sweetness isn’t cloying like some flavored milks tend to be. I find the best horchata is one whose flavor, when you take a sip, dissipates, leaving you craving more and more. When horchata has those qualities, I can knock back an obscene amount of the stuff!
Of course, you can always add more cinnamon and vanilla if it suits you.
DO YOU DRINK HORCHATA COLD, WARM, OR HOT?
Horchata is always served very cold and often on the rocks. Because of this, yours should be full-bodied when mixed so your drink will be watered down properly by the addition of the ice cubes.
Store the horchata in the fridge because ice-cold is where it’s at.
HOW DO YOU MAKE HORCHATA?
Horchata is such a straightforward drink to make: Prepping the star ingredient is as simple as a quick rinse of long-grain white rice, which rids the grains of any excess starch that can thicken the horchata. Steep a cinnamon stick in some water, then blend the rice and cinnamon together to break down both ingredients.
The mixture is steeped for three hours to infuse the rice and cinnamon flavors into the water, which is later strained away to produce the horchata.
Sweetened condensed milk and a splash of vanilla are added to the rice-water base to make a sweet, creamy agua fresca. Stir before serving to ensure the heavier condensed milk and cinnamon are blended into each glass.
SWAPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
I steep a cinnamon stick and use the infused water (and stick) to flavor my horchata. While you can most certainly use ground cinnamon instead, I like to keep my horchata as light as possible and find the cinnamon stick method maintains that lightness.
If you’re lactose intolerant, keep your stomach happy by replacing the sweetened condensed milk with lactose-free condensed milk. If, however, you stick to a vegan diet, a condensed coconut milk may be substituted with the understanding that the flavor of the rice may be weakened.
You can also go the traditional route by omitting the sweetened condensed milk and adding a cup of whole milk and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar instead. But, really, who wants to add more work to this recipe?
HOW TO MAKE BOOZY HORCHATA
Can you add alcohol to horchata? Ab-so-flippin’-lutely! As a matter of fact, those in the know have already bottled alcoholic Horchata! Spiced rum is the best mate to Horchata. It creates a spiked chai-tasting cocktail which I’m so here for!
Bourbon is another great way to liven this Horchata up.
An ounce of your favorite spirit shaken into three ounces of horchata and poured over ice is where it’s at.
HOW LONG WILL HORCHATA LAST?
As with anything that contains milk, Horchata will keep in the fridge for five to seven days. I guarantee you, though, you’ll use it up well before then.
CAN YOU FREEZE HORCHATA?
In the past, I’ve frozen horchata in ice cubes to add to other drinks. If you want to make a large batch to freeze, do so with confidence!
Transfer the prepared Horchata to a freezer-safe container. Keep it frozen for up to three months. Thaw it under refrigeration before giving it a vigorous stir to combine the ingredients which may separate and serve as usual.