What is Horchata anyway?
If beverages could be called comfort food, this milky white, cooling rice drink known as Horchata in Mexico, would be at the top of the “comfort drink” list. Horchata’s soothing sweet creaminess makes it a perfect foil for spicy food, and it also lends itself to a pretty fine cocktail when mixed with rum or brandy.
Mexican Horchata 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.
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.
Rather than pulverize the sugar and cinnamon with the rice water, I wanted to make a flavored simple syrup that would sweeten the horchata on a glass-by-glass basis. To keep it as traditional as possible I made a simple syrup infused with cinnamon and vanilla, but also added some star anise and a few cloves for additional spice. After straining the rice water I could then add the spiced sweetener to taste, making it sweet on some days and light on others.
I also found many variations on whether to pulverize the rice to a powder alone, 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. Here is the method and recipe I preferred after adapting several different recipes:
Recipe: Horchata with Cinnamon Spice Syrup
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 5 cups water
Ingredients for Syrup:
- 1 cups sugar
- 1 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
1. In a blender (VitaMix is great for this), grind the rice finely, almost to a powder.
2. Transfer the rice to a bowl then pour warm water over it. Cover and refrigerate at least eight hours, but preferably overnight.
3. 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.
4. Store in covered container until ready to use.
5. Make the spice syrup: In a saucepan add sugar, water, vanilla and whole spices (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. Remove spice bag and pour syrup into bottle and refrigerate. If you don’t want to make this, you can always purchase it from HeathGlen.
Serving: 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 for up to 3 weeks.
Recipe for Simple Horchata Cocktail
- 3/4 cup rice water
- 1/4 cup rice milk
- 1 shot spiced rum
- 3 Tbsp. Spice Syrup (from recipe above or from HeathGlen)
- cinnamon sticks or licorice roots for garnish
Directions: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Combine all of the ingredients (except the cinnamon stick or licorice root) in a cocktail shaker and fill the shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the rocks glass. Garnish with cinnamon stick or licorice root.
There are other cocktail recipes readily searchable on the internet, some of which use tequila, chocolate tequila, bitters, etc. I like to keep my drinks as simple as possible, especially when you have to make your own horchata for this recipe. Once you make the horchata and syrup however, you will have enough for a refreshing afternoon beverage for a week (unless you are relaxing with friends, and then you will only have enough for an evening).
Truly a taste treat at our house. My daughter’s favorite drink.
Do you have any experiences with homemade horchata? How about the packaged kind? Let me know the good and the bad!