If beverages could be called comfort food, this milky white, cooling rice drink known as horchata in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, would be at the top of the “comfort drink” list. Horchata’s soothing sweet creaminess makes it a perfect non-alcoholic drink for hot days and/or spicy food, and it also lends itself to a pretty awesome cocktail when mixed with rum or brandy.
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What is Horchata anyway?
The Mexican version of this drink is traditionally made by soaking rice (or rice and almonds) in water, sweetening it by adding sugar, cinnamon and sometimes vanilla or other spices, and then straining and serving over ice.
There are several variations of horchata. In Valencia, Spain, horchata is known as orxata and is made with tigernuts (chufas in Spanish) rather than rice.
Some recipes also include sesame seeds or barley, but the basic horchata is rice-water or rice-milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.
Is Horchata Always Sweet?
If you buy a pre-made horchata from the store or a vendor or a restaurant, you might find the drink to be overly sweet. It’s quite easy to make your own horchata, and if you want to customize the sweetness even further, make your own cinnamon-infused simple syrup (see recipe in the recipe card).
When making your own homemade horchata, you can make the rice base without sugar and then adjust the sweetness of the final drink by adding a simple syrup on a glass-by-glass basis. I made a homemade simple syrup and infused it with cinnamon sticks and vanilla to get a really outstanding sweetener for the horchata.
After straining the rice water you end up with a base that you can pour into a glass, and then add the level of sweetness you prefer by adding the simple syrup , stir and add ice. This also works well if you are making horchata for a crowd as sweetness preferences are all over the board.
How to Make the Rice Base
In researching horchata methods, I found many variations on whether to pulverize the rice to a powder alone, or with the water, or in stages.
I tried 3 different methods and found that pulverizing the rice without water and then soaking the powder in water overnight before straining provided the lightest texture while still maintaining the rice flavor. This is the method I detail in the recipe card below.
What to serve with Mexican horchata
The rich creamy base of horchata pairs wonderfully with this simple recipe for chile lime peanuts. Horchata also is a perfect match with spicy food, with the milky creaminess taking the edge off the heat.
And a little brandy or bourbon added to horchata is a wonderful pairing for fiesta time. Serve the appetizer peanuts with horchata cocktails and let the festivities begin!
Recipe for Horchata Base and Cinnamon Simple Syrup
DIY Horchata with Cinnamon Simple Syrup
Ingredients for Horchata Base
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 5 cups water
Ingredients for Simple Syrup
- 1 cups sugar
- 1 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ½ star anise
- 3 cloves
- ½ tsp vanilla
Directions for the Horchata Base:
- In a blender (VitaMix is great for this), grind the rice finely, almost to a powder.1 cup long grain rice
- Transfer the rice to a bowl then pour warm water over it. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours, but preferably overnight.5 cups water
- Strain the mixture through a sieve lined with a few layers of cheesecloth, squeezing it to extract as much of the rice flavor as possible. Some recipes blended the rice and water and water together again before straining it, but I did not see the need to do this and was quite happy with the flavor.
- Store in covered container until ready to use.
To make the spice syrup:
- In a saucepan add sugar, water, whole spices and vanilla (if you don’t want to spoon the whole spices out later, wrap them in a bit of cheesecloth and secure with a band or tie and place the bag in the pot). Bring the mix to a boil slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar. After the mix comes to a boil, cover, turn off the heat and steep the spices in the syrup for 30 min. to 1 hour. Strain the syrup to remove the whole spices (or remove the spice bag if you used that) and pour syrup into bottle and refrigerate.1 cups sugar, 1 cups water, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1/2 star anise, 3 cloves, 1/2 tsp vanilla
- Pour rice water over ice and stir in 2-3 Tablespoons of the syrup. Use cinnamon stick as stir stick or sprinkle cinnamon on top. Many people will add milk or rice milk to the drink also. I prefer mine really light without the milk, but it is definitely more creamy and lush with milk.
- Storage: Store the rice-water in the refrigerator for 4-5 days and the syrup in the refrigerator indefinitely.
** The cinnamon vanilla syrup is wonderful with other drinks, including hot cider, Irish coffee (use the syrup instead of sugar), and Italian sodas (use 2-3 Tablespoons with 8 oz sparkling water and stir).