Agua de Horchata: Origin and Recipe

Is Horchata a Mexican drink? Agua de horchata is one of Mexicans’ favorite drinks, growing in popularity more and more among other countries; here, we tell you what it’s made of and its origin. 

Aguas frescas, or naturally flavored waters, are a refreshing delight in the heat for all Mexicans, especially with summer hitting us so strongly. They not only quench your thirst but also leave a delicious sweetness in your mouth. Among the favorites are jamaica, tamarind, lemon, chia, and, of course, horchata, one of the most popular drinks in Mexico that you can find in almost any ice cream shop, diner, or taquería in the country.

 

Most people have tried horchata, known for its sweet, milky flavor and light texture, making it the ideal companion for a stew or tacos. However, few know the origin of this drink. Is this a drink of Mexican origin?

In previous blogs, we shared the history and some recipes for agua de jamaica, or Hibiscus, a traditional flower used in agua fresca within Mexican cuisine. Now, it’s time to delve into the origin of horchata and give you a delicious homemade recipe to encourage you to prepare this sweet and refreshing drink at home, too. Join us in this blog where we tell you what it’s made of and how to prepare this delicious ingredient’s agua fresca!

The Origin of Horchata

Although this drink is widely known in Mexico, so much so that many think it originated there, horchata actually comes from the Mediterranean. Its origin is attributed to Alboraya, a municipality in Valencia, Spain, where it’s made using tubers known as chufas (or tiger nuts), which are knot-shaped and come from a plant called cyperus esculentus.

Chufa cultivation dates back to the Egyptian civilization, as remnants of this food were found in the sarcophagi of early dynasties, according to the Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Chufa de Valencia. In the 7th century, Islamic communities moved to the Iberian Peninsula and spread the cultivation of this tuber across present-day Valencian territory. Its beneficial effects on respiratory diseases and stomach ailments popularized its consumption as chufa milk.

 

Regarding the term "horchata," popular belief says that a villager offered this drink to King James I of Aragon, who, upon tasting it, was enchanted by its flavor. When asked what the drink was, the girl replied it was “chufa milk” (llet de xufa in Valencian), to which the king responded, “This isn’t milk, this is gold, pretty girl!” (“¡Aixo no es llet, aixo es or xata!”). This phrase, "or xata," pronounced “horchata” spread throughout Spain to refer to the leche de chufa, chufa milk, drink.

However, the first historical record of this word comes from a recipe featuring almonds and melon seeds, ingredients later replaced by chufas due to their affordability, as noted by the specialized blog Historia Cocina. Traditional preparation of leche de chufa involves grinding chufas, adding water or milk, sugar, and lemon; and some even add a pinch of cinnamon.

But then, what about Mexico?...

Horchata arrived in Mexico with the Spanish. During the Spanish arrival in America, horchata de chufa made its way to Mexico and laid the foundation for the drink we know today.

In Mexico, this agua fresca is made with soaked and ground rice grains; then, they are mixed with sweetened water and cinnamon. In some regions, vanilla, milk, or coconut juice is added. The ingredients are very similar, but instead of chufas, soaked rice grains are used, and lemon is not added, as cinnamon and vanilla are typically used to flavor the drink.

Agua de horchata is also made with other fruits, grains, and seeds, such as melon seeds, almonds, oats, or coyol, to name a few.

 

And well, now that you know the origin of this delicious drink, here’s a recipe to make it just like we do at home! Remember that each region, city, and even household has different ways of cooking, but we all strive to maintain the authentic flavor of our dishes.

Homemade Agua de Horchata Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of long grain rice, uncooked
  • 4 cups purified water
  • 1 can (14 oz) of condensed milk
  • 1 can (14 oz) of evaporated milk
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Sugar to taste (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Ice cubes
  • Ground cinnamon for garnish

Instructions:

1) Soak the Rice: Rinse the rice until clear. Let the rice soak overnight in two cups of water with one cinnamon stick, or at least for two hours. If soaking less time than overnight, make sure the water is hot.

2) Blend the Mixture: Transfer the rice along with the water in which it soaked, the cinnamon stick, condensed milk, and evaporated milk to a blender. Blend until smooth.

3) Strain the Horchata: Pour the blended mixture into a strainer or cheesecloth. Stir well to combine.

4) Repeat steps 1 and 2 with remaining solids: Take the remaining solids from the strainer/cloth back into the blender with two more cups of water. Blend again and strain again. Discard what is left (unless you want to blend and strain again, then divide the two cups, one per blending process). It is important to strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or a clean cloth into a large pitcher to remove any solids.

5) Sweeten and Flavor: Add the vanilla extract and sugar to taste (if desired). Stir until well mixed. Refrigerate until chilled.

6) Serve: Serve the horchata over ice and sprinkle a bit of ground cinnamon on top for garnish. 

A pro-tip, you can always add sliced strawberries or mango and make this a full treat to enjoy. And that is it! Enjoy this refreshing and traditional creamy drink!

 

Although all share the Spanish influence of horchata de chufa, Mexican versions have developed their unique touch over the years and are now distinct from the original preparation. For this reason, agua de horchata holds a special place in Mexican cuisine. On our end, we really are excited to share this recipe as it is the basis for many new and upcoming recipes. For example, we have seen tons of horchata cocktails, ice cream, and even milkshakes that we try every chance we get and highly recommend you do too!

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So, what do you think? Were you surprised by the origin of Horchata? Is this a recipe you will be trying soon? Is there any other recipe you would like for us to share with you all? Let us know in the comments below; we would love to hear from you! 

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