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What is Horchata?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Horchata, also called orxata, is a refreshing drink made from combining grains, nuts or tubers like rice, barley almonds or tiger nuts, with sugar, and sweet spices like cinnamon. Water is added to the primary ingredient until the result is a grain, vegetable, or nut milk, which is then spiced and sugared to produce the beverage. Food historians suggest that the drink may have initially been a form of almond milk carried by Arabic travelers, which was thus introduced to Spain.

Spanish immigrants to the new world made it a favorite beverage in many parts of Mexico and South America. It is particularly popular in El Salvador, where it may also incorporate the new world flavor of chocolate. The early use of tiger nuts in horchata was especially common in Valencia, Spain.

Tiger nuts refer to long edible tubers from the plant cyperus esculentus. In Spain they are called chufa, horchata made from chufa is called horchata de chufas. This variant of horchata is not common in South America as other grain or nuts sources are much more easily obtained.

In El Salvador, people may make their own horchata, but there are many commercial varieties and horchata powder. Often Salvadorian horchata does not use rice, but instead uses herbs and may employ calabash seeds or sesame seeds as the primary grain or nut-based flavoring. The horchata of this type is strained so that the end texture is smooth and milky.

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There is some debate about whether horchata should be prepared using milk instead of water. Some recipes call for the addition of dairy milk, or other milk substitutes. Others say the oldest forms of recipes likely did not include milk since it would not have kept well. Whether or not milk is used, horchata has a milky texture and consistency and is preferable when served ice cold. In many restaurants and festivals, large clear containers of iced horchata and other popular fruit punches and drinks are extremely inviting.

Horchata is not commonly available in standard US grocery stores, though you can find versions of it in Mexican and South American grocery stores. Despite its unfamiliarity in many parts of the US, QuikTrip® convenience stores in some areas of the Southern US, including Georgia and Texas, offer a horchata frozen shake or drink that is quite popular. You can also find horchata served in some Mexican restaurants and in restaurants featuring Salvadorian cuisine.

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liz1103
Post 3

@Matis- Here is the recipe I use for making homemade horchata. It has a great taste and really compliments spicy dishes. It does require some prep and resting time, so you will probably want to prepare this the night before or at least the morning of your dinner gathering.

I take a cup of uncooked white long-grain rice and add it to 5 cups of water in my blender. Then, I blend the mixture just until the rice begins to break up. It usually takes about a minute. After that, I let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours.

After it sits, strain the rice water into a pitcher and get rid if the rice. Add in half a cup of milk, half a tablespoon each of vanilla extract and ground cinnamon, and two thirds of a cup of white sugar. Stir it all together and stick it in the fridge. I like to let the pitcher chill over night and serve over ice with the meal.

Matis
Post 2

This does sound delicious! Does anyone have a recipe for horchata? I would like to make this for my next dinner party. I love to cook Mexican dishes and I think this would be the perfect addition.

Charmagne
Post 1

I grew up in San Diego, California. A few years ago, I moved to Idaho. I have missed good Mexican food so much! We recently took a vacation and went back to San Diego to visit. One of the very first things we did was go to one of our old favorite Mexican food restaurants.

I ordered a meal and a large, iced horchata drink. You just can’t get decent Mexican cuisine for at least three hours in any direction from my town.

It was so good to get a horchata to refresh and beat that summer San Diego weather. If you haven’t had the chance, find a good Mexican eatery and try this delicious drink. It goes with everything on the menu!

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