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Mucho Gusto

Horchata (de Arroz y Canela)

When most people think of their favorite summer drink, they probably immediately think of lemonade. And how could they not? After all, it’s a sweet-and-sour, cross-cultural classic loved by all ages! As a kid, I remember summertime as the time for lemonade stands with friends, pouring my own hard work in every cup and tasting the sweet, child-like fun in between customers. 

Personally, a couple other icy cold drinks come to mind for me. My childhood was filled with lots of fresh lemonade, of course, (always homemade by my grandma and kept in big pitchers in the fridge) but it was also brimming with horchata, rosa de jamaica, and aguas frescas. These were the special summertime flavors crafted by my grandma for the whole family to enjoy after long days playing or working in the sun. As a child, seeing these fun drinks in the fridge made me even more excited for the future of my lemonade stand business… 

Like lemonade in America, horchata is a staple in Hispanic culture. The bright and crisp-tasting liquid’s history is rooted in Valencia, Spain, from ground tiger nuts. When I visited Valencia years ago, I remember having some of the best, yet most unfamiliar and unique horchata of my life—it had a much nuttier and richer flavor. The odd, small, and green bean-looking seeds were sold by vendors in canvas sacks up and down the streets, as was the drink. 

This popular, traditional beverage has variations in Mexico, the Americas, and West Africa, all of which evolved from this Spanish tradition. It goes by many names (horchata de chufa in Spain, kunnu aya in West Africa, and agua de horchata in Mexico) but is always delicious. Besides the original tiger nut version, the diverse drink can be made from melon seeds, sesame seeds, jicaro seeds, or herbs. It is a plant-milk based drink, served hot or cold, and my family’s version uses white rice, which is common in the Americas. Horchata de arroz is the most popular recipe in Guatemala, where my grandma is from.

You might be familiar with this style of horchata, as it is sold alongside tacos and burritos at your local Mexican taquería. Cold, creamy, and smooth, this horchata is full of fragrant cinnamon and a fruity vanilla sweetness, but is still somehow refreshing and light. I always think of this as drinking a melted coconut popsicle minus the coconut flavor and with an emphasis on the fresh milky and smooth consistency. This delicious cinnamon and rice milk drink is thirst-quenching and perfect for the hot, sunny days we have ahead of us. So, swap out the lemonade with horchata and experience the other side of traditional summer drinks while you bask in the sunshine. This sweet, blissful drink might even give you the sensation of being on a tropical island vacation. Each tasty sip will make you “Mmm” and “Ahhh.”

Ingredients: (makes a full pitcher-size serving)

  • 1 ½ cup white rice
  • 8 cups water
  • About 4 cups of milk
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •  ½ cup of sweetened condensed milk (or sweeten to your liking)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon

Procedure: 

Soak the rice in a pot with 4-5 cups of water for about 8 hours. Without disposing of the water, strain the rice from the water. Transfer the water to another pot if need be. Grind ½ cup of the soaked rice in a blender and add  the conserved rice water from earlier. In a separate pot, boil an additional 4 cups of water with a cinnamon stick until it bubbles, for about 10 minutes. The water should be aromatic and brown in color. Pour the cinnamon water into the rice water. You can remove the stick now or continue to let it soak in the mixture and remove it later. Add the 4 cups of milk. The goal is to combine the water with enough milk so that it’s somewhat creamy, but not thick or overpowering. If the drink is diluted and thin, add more milk to balance the consistency of the mixture. If the mixture is thick and heavy, add more water. Add the vanilla extract and condensed milk to sweeten the mixture, and mix well. Pour into a large pitcher, store in the fridge, and enjoy a cold glass of horchata all summer long with family and friends! 

Cover photo courtesy of House of Yumm

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