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Drink Origins: Horchata

Published on:

October 28, 2022

If you’ve ever been to an authentic Mexican or Latin-American restaurant, chances are you might be familiar with the milky and sweet beverage, Horchata, or even “rice water,” as you may have heard it commonly called. Nothing goes better with a Latin American dish than a sweet and refreshing Horchata. Horchata has existed for centuries and is a staple in Latin and Central American eateries. It’s a creamy, often milky, sweet beverage that is usually concocted from grains, nuts, or seeds soaked in water for long periods of time. To spice up the beverage, you can add cinnamon and various other herbs and spices. Unknown to most, however, is that Horchata varies from region to region, and each recipe brings a unique flavor. Let’s dive into the origins of the Horchata and reveal how some key variations changed what the world is drinking

Where it comes from

You would be surprised how far the horchata influence has reached over the years. Although there isn’t precisely one originator for the drink, culinary experts have traced the origins back to North Africa all the way back to 2400 BC. In Nigeria and Mali, a similar beverage is called “Kunnu Aya,” but in the 11th century, the recipe spread to the “new” world countries such as Spain and Portugal, due to the Muslim Moors. The original Horchata is made from Tiger nuts ( seeds that come from Yellow Nutsedge) found in Southern Europe, Africa, and Madagascar. When the Spanish conquistadors and Moors copied the recipe from Africa, they made the Horchata into a rice-based beverage since they didn’t have tiger nuts readily available. The rice horchata grew so popular in Spain that King James of Aragon had dubbed it “liquid gold,” and some even graced it as “the drink of gods” for its flavor alone. While the tiger nuts version of the drink would make its way to Spain, the rice horchata, or “rice water,” became the Spaniard’s favorite and a recipe we still use today. The modern Mexican Horchata is made with rice and then sweetened with cinnamon and sugar; sometimes, milk is included in the recipe. Currently, the “classic” rice horchata flavor profile can be enjoyed in ice cream, cookies, horchata-flavored frappes, and alcoholic beverages such as “Rumchata”

Horchata Variations

The Horchata has appeared in several variations and different recipes throughout its history. Some may not even fit the typical profile of what most know as a horchata, but they still count. The “horchata” in Spanish is a generic term that applies to any sweet beverage made from grains, ground nuts, and various spices. With such a loose definition, there are many ways a drink can be considered a “horchata,” and it varies from culture to culture. Here are some of the more common ones that would be sweet new beverages to quench your thirst wherever you travel.

Horchata De Arroz: There is no better place to start than the most familiar Horchata that you’ve likely encountered before: The Horchata De Arroz. The Mexican Horchata is the beverage we commonly call rice water in the U.S. This Horchata is made with cinnamon, water, and soaked rice. Sometimes it’s substituted with milk instead to make it sweeter. To make it, you simply wash and soak your white rice in hot water, place a stick of cinnamon in hot water as it boils, and then process the rice into a blender. While it may be a bit gritty after its blended, you’ll end up with a delicious treat to enjoy with any Latin American cuisine.

Horchata De Chufa: Time to go back a little and get a taste of the original recipe, Horchata De Chufua! Also known as the Spanish Horchata, this beverage is one of the most common horchatas in the U.S. and Latin countries, but still very distinctive from the rice water we’re more familiar with. The Spanish Horchata is made with tiger nuts exported from Africa and Madagascar. Although it’s not as sweet as the Horchata De Arroz, the Horchata De Chufa can have a sweetened and savory almond flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Horchata Deajon Joji: If you’re into beverages with a more nutty taste, then this Horchata is for you! The Horchata Deajon is made from untoasted sesame seeds, sugar, and water, although sometimes milk is used as a sweetener. Unlike other horchatas, the horchata deajon doesn’t call for any additional spices. To make it, you soak untoasted sesame seeds in hot water for four hours or overnight, and then place the soaked seeds in a blender with sugar. As a result, you’ll have a nutty but sweet beverage that is simple and cheap to make.

Semilla de Jicaro/Morro Seed Horchata: Want to depart from the rest of the horchatas? If so, you certainly need to take note of this melon horchata. The melon horchata is a little closer to an “agua de Fresca” or melon water, but to make it involves soaking seeds, so it still counts within the horchata family. The melon horchata uses a mass of melon pulp for the body and the seeds for a splash of nutty flavor. With a mix of melon pulp and seeds, honey or sugar, and a splash of lime juice, you place it all in a blender until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Like the other horchatas, this one can be gritty but certainly just as refreshing as its name’s sake.

Horchata Origins

Ecuadorian Horchata: If you Really want to mix up your horchata pallet, then the Ecuadorian Horchata is a must-have treat. Probably one of the most distinct on the list, the Ecuadorian Horchata is more like tea and less milky than the others. The Ecuadorian Horchata is blended with 18 different herbs and flowers, such as chamomile, mint, lemongrass, borage, roses, violets, and carnations, to name a few. With such a combination, this Horchata can taste like a floral fruit punch and gives off a red color, which comes from blood leaf and amaranth. The 18 herbs blend makes the Ecuadorian Horchata hard to create outside of the country due to its complicated combination. Some herbs needed are treated with harmful pesticides in the U.S. However, some Latin American vendors sell pre-made Ecuadorian horchata blends for you to enjoy its fruity and herbal flavor.

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