If you’ve ever had the chance to go to a Mexican taquería, you’ve probably been faced with a delicious choice: jamaica or horchata? These two Mexican drinks are characteristic of the strong, aromatic flavors of Mexican cuisine.
And horchata, the milky-white cousin to the bright-red jamaica (Hibiscus flower), is a great complement to the spicy Mexican food we all love. With the basic ingredients of rice, cinnamon, and sugar, it also makes a refreshing treat over ice at the end of a meal.
History of Mexican Horchata
While many of us associate horchata solely with Mexico, in fact, it is originally from Spain.
Valencia is considered the home of horchata, where horchaterías sell the traditional drink along with a sweet bread called farton. Unlike in Mexico, Spanish horchata’s base ingredient is the chufa, or tiger nut.
Legend has it that when King James I took Valencia from the Moors, a local girl offered him some of the sweet, white drink. When told it was tiger nut milk (llet de xufa), supposedly he said, “Això no es llet, això es or, xata!” or “This isn’t milk, this is gold, pretty girl!”
The current name comes from Catalán: orxata (ordiata), since horchata at the time was made from barley (ordi).
As with much Latin food and drinks, the beverage changed by the time it was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, using rice as a base instead, and also frequently incorporating almonds.
Given its Spanish origins, it’s not surprising that horchata is also found in other countries in Mesoamerica. However, its ingredients vary.
For example, in Honduras and El Salvador, the base is morro seeds, not rice. It can also contain cocoa, sesame seeds, nutmeg, and vanilla. Some horchata recipes call for other nuts, such as cashews and peanuts. Parts of Honduras and Nicaragua use jícaro seeds. Depending on the ingredients, some versions of horchata are usually strained before serving.
Believe it or not, despite its milky appearance and texture, traditional Mexican horchata is non-dairy. This works out well for the street vendors who sell it from customary barrel-shaped jars on hot days.
However, even Mexican horchata recipes have differences. Some do include milk to make it creamier, and you can find recipes that call for boiling the rice and recipes that call for grinding it raw.
Make Your Own Mexican Horchata
In today’s What’s This Food, host Daniel Delaney explores the classic Mexican and Latin American rice (or nut) based milk beverage, Horchata. Unlike rice milk, Horchata is frequently sweetened and spiced with cinnamon and other spices. It’s also vegan friendly, though today’s recipe includes a small, optional splash of milk.
These days, it’s possible to buy horchata at Latin food markets in powder form or ready-made, but it always tastes best if you make it fresh. Want to give it a shot? It’s time-consuming but fairly simple.
The most basic Mexican horchata recipe has just five ingredients: rice, water, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar, and even the vanilla is optional. It’s best served chilled over ice, and it’s amazing on a summer day.