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.
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.
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. 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.
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The drink was originally made from dried, ground tiger nuts (chufa in Spanish, Cyperus esculentus), which were combined with water and sweetener, then filtered.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:
*Chufa refers to the tuber of the chufa plant, which can be roasted, made into flour, or turned into juice.
†Muslim forces invaded Andalusia (southern) Spain in 711, and in seven years conquered the Iberian peninsula. The Muslim civilization in Iberia reached its peak in the 10th century. Muslim rule declined after that and ended in 1492 when Granada, the heartland of Muslim reign, was conquered by the forces of the [Catholic] king of Castile. This ended nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule.