Some liken horchata to drinking rice pudding (photo © Pampered Chef).
 Sunbasket adds sesame seeds to its horchata. Here’s the recipe (photo © Sunbasket).
 This recipe adds sesame seeds (photo © Sunbasket).
 The original horchata was made thousands of years ago from tiger nuts. You can buy them online for horchata, snacking, salads and desserts (photo © Anthony’s Goods).
 You can buy horchata ready-to-drink, made with almond milk or rice milk (photo © Califia Farms).
September 24th is National Horchata Day, a refreshing drink courtesy of Mexico. It’s one of the more popular varieties of Mexican agua fresca.
A classic, creamy drink, Mexican horchata is made with milk, ground rice, cane sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. You can make nondairy versions with your milk of choice.
Brands like Almond Breeze and Rice Dream sell quarts of horchata, ready-to-drink. The history of horchata is below.
USES FOR HORCHATA
Horchata is an addictively delicious cold drink, but you can also warm it up to create a cup of hot milk with cinnamon-vanilla accents.
Dessert. Serve it as a drink with dessert, instead of coffee or tea. We love it with loaf cakes (pound cake, carrot cake, chocolate loaf) and with pastries.
Coffee. Make a blended drink with coffee.
Cereal. Add it to hot or cold cereal.
Cocktail. Turn it into a cocktail with rum or other spirit.
This recipe requires the overnight soaking of rice. It makes 34 ounces of beverage. If you don’t have a 60-ounce pitcher, you can reduce the amount of water for a 32-ounce pitcher (and a slightly more concentrated flavor).
1 cup of white rice
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup sugar, depending on taste (we used 2/3 cup of sugar, and you substitute noncaloric sweetener)
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1.5 cups milk, almond milk or rice milk
4-1/4 cups water
1. COMBINE the rice, almonds and cinnamon in a bowl of water. Soak overnight (or at least 5 hours) to slightly soften the rice.
2. STRAIN and discard the water. Blend the rice mixture and evaporated milk in a food processor until the rice is completely ground.
3. STRAIN into a pitcher. Add the sugar, vanilla, and milk. Mix well, then mix in the water. Chill and serve with optional ice.
THE HISTORY OF HORCHATA
We think of horchata as a creamy, refreshing drink from Mexico that tastes similar to rice pudding.
But the first horchata, horchata de chufa* originated in North Africa around 2400 B.C.E., in the area of present-day Nigeria and Mali [source].
The drink was originally made from dried, ground tiger nuts (chufa in Spanish, Cyperus esculentus), which were combined with water and sweetener, then filtered.
The “horchata” portion of horchata de chufa derives from the Valencian dialect (a variant of Catalan), where it is called orxata de xufa. “Orxata” is a name given to various kinds of plant milk beverages [source].
It was brought to Spain by the Moors in the 8th century, during the Muslim conquest†. It began to spread throughout Hispania (the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula and its provinces) in the 11th century, and became a popular drink.
The drink spread from Spain to Mexico in the course of colonization.
The Spanish didn’t bring tiger nuts with them to the New World, but they did bring rice. Hence, the genesis of horchata de arroz, flavored with New World cinnamon and vanilla (and in some regions, marigolds [source]).
The more familiar Mexican version of modern times, horchata de arroz [rice], is made from rice milk, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar, and has a more milky texture. Other countries put their own spin on horchata. For example:
In Puerto Rico, horchata de ajonjoli is made with coconut milk, ground sesame seeds and rum.
El Salvador and Honduras make semilla de jicaro with licorice-flavored jicaro seeds (from a calabash that grows on a tree).
In Ecuador, horchata lojana is a red herbal tea made from flowers, but adds a similar mix of the herbs and spices that are used in other types of horchata [source].
Today the beloved horchata flavor can also be found in baked goods (cake, churros, donuts), candies, chocolate, coffee and ice cream.