Horchata is a classic agua fresca (fresh water) drink made from rice, a smooch of cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla. Enjoy this cool and refreshing drink as it is or hype it up with a shot of rum to create a unique adult beverage.
Horchata is a popular Latin American rice-based drink. This sweetened cinnamon-vanilla beverage is common in the Mexican taquerias that pepper San Antonio, Texas, the city I now call home.
Scan any restaurant that specializes in authentic Mexican food and you’re sure to find a machine that has this white liquid bubbling away inside. Its creaminess and cooling powers make it the ideal counterpart for the spicy salsas and chilies common to this part of the world.
Horchata de arroz (rice) morphed from the orxchata, which is Spanish in origin. Many Spanish speaking countries have their own versions of a grain-based drink, Puerto Rico has one made from sesame seeds, but this version made with rice seems to be the most popular and commonly known.
It’s so easy to make horchata from scratch! You probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry already, so I urge you to give it a shot and make horchata at home.
WHAT’S IN HORCHATA?
For all the complexities of its flavor—it’s creamy, earthy, refreshing, and spiced—horchata’s ingredients are really quite simple. The main ingredient is technically water, the second being rice, of course. But cinnamon and vanilla are both used as supporting flavors to pull the two together in a drink that tastes more complex than it really is.
Milk and granulated sugar are commonly added to the rice water base. The milk and sugar sweeten and put the figurative bow on the drink. I use sweetened condensed milk instead. For me, ease and efficiency reign supreme, so I’m killing two ingredient birds with one stone.
WHAT DOES HORCHATA TASTE LIKE?
Despite the fact that it doesn’t contain nuts, horchata has a nutty flavor. For me, Horchata should taste milky with a hint of that nuttiness.
Cinnamon and vanilla should only kiss your taste buds, not be the prominent flavor of horchata. Horchata’s sweetness isn’t cloying like some flavored milks tend to be. I find the best horchata is one whose flavor, when you take a sip, dissipates, leaving you craving more and more. When horchata has those qualities, I can knock back an obscene amount of the stuff!
Of course, you can always add more cinnamon and vanilla if it suits you.
DO YOU DRINK HORCHATA COLD, WARM, OR HOT?
Horchata is always served very cold and often on the rocks. Because of this, yours should be full-bodied when mixed so your drink will be watered down properly by the addition of the ice cubes.
Store the horchata in the fridge because ice-cold is where it’s at.
HOW DO YOU MAKE HORCHATA?
Horchata is such a straightforward drink to make: Prepping the star ingredient is as simple as a quick rinse of long-grain white rice, which rids the grains of any excess starch that can thicken the horchata. Steep a cinnamon stick in some water, then blend the rice and cinnamon together to break down both ingredients.
The mixture is steeped for three hours to infuse the rice and cinnamon flavors into the water, which is later strained away to produce the horchata.
Sweetened condensed milk and a splash of vanilla are added to the rice-water base to make a sweet, creamy agua fresca. Stir before serving to ensure the heavier condensed milk and cinnamon are blended into each glass.
SWAPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
I steep a cinnamon stick and use the infused water (and stick) to flavor my horchata. While you can most certainly use ground cinnamon instead, I like to keep my horchata as light as possible and find the cinnamon stick method maintains that lightness.
If you’re lactose intolerant, keep your stomach happy by replacing the sweetened condensed milk with lactose-free condensed milk. If, however, you stick to a vegan diet, a condensed coconut milk may be substituted with the understanding that the flavor of the rice may be weakened.
You can also go the traditional route by omitting the sweetened condensed milk and adding a cup of whole milk and 3/4 cup of granulated sugar instead. But, really, who wants to add more work to this recipe?
HOW TO MAKE BOOZY HORCHATA
Can you add alcohol to horchata? Ab-so-flippin’-lutely! As a matter of fact, those in the know have already bottled alcoholic Horchata! Spiced rum is the best mate to Horchata. It creates a spiked chai-tasting cocktail which I’m so here for!
Bourbon is another great way to liven this Horchata up.
An ounce of your favorite spirit shaken into three ounces of horchata and poured over ice is where it’s at.
HOW LONG WILL HORCHATA LAST?
As with anything that contains milk, Horchata will keep in the fridge for five to seven days. I guarantee you, though, you’ll use it up well before then.
CAN YOU FREEZE HORCHATA?
In the past, I’ve frozen horchata in ice cubes to add to other drinks. If you want to make a large batch to freeze, do so with confidence!
Transfer the prepared Horchata to a freezer-safe container. Keep it frozen for up to three months. Thaw it under refrigeration before giving it a vigorous stir to combine the ingredients which may separate and serve as usual.
MORE REFRESHING DRINK RECIPES
- Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Tea)
- Iced Chai Latte
- Mango Lassi
- Cucumber Lime Mint Agua Fresca
- Crema di Limoncello
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- Prep time: 10 minutes
- Cook time: 10 minutes
- Infusion time: 3 hours
- Yield: 8 servings
- 6 cups water, divided
- 1 3-inch cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
- 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Fine Mesh Strainer
1 Steep the cinnamon in water: You can skip this step if you’re using ground cinnamon. In a small pot, cover the cinnamon stick with 1 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, turn the stove off and let the cinnamon stick steep for 10 minutes.
2 Rinse the rice: While the cinnamon is steeping, give the rice a quick rinse under cold water. This will remove excess starch from the surface of the grains. Strain off any excess water before adding the rice to your blender.
3 Blend the rice and cinnamon together: Pour the steeped cinnamon water, along with the cinnamon stick (or add the ground cinnamon), into the blender with the rice and the remaining 5 cups of water. Blend just until the grains of rice begin to break up, or about 1 minute.
4 Transfer the rice water to a container: Pour most of the mixture into a large bowl. Swish around the remaining rice water in the blender carafe to try and remove any rice that may remain after the first pour. Add it to the container with the rest of the rice water. Try to retrieve as much of the rice as possible from the blender. Do not add fresh water to try and remove any remaining rice. It will dilute the flavor of your drink.
5 Soak the rice: Allow the rice mixture to soak for at least 3 hours at room temperature. Stir the Horchata periodically throughout the soak time (I usually stir it on the hour, but that’s not a hard and fast rule).
6 Strain the horchata: Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Place a layer of cheesecloth or a thin tea towel over the strainer. Pour the rice mixture through the lined strainer. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the rice then discard the solids.
7 Sweeten the horchata: Transfer the strained rice liquid to a serving pitcher. Add the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract into the pitcher and whisk vigorously to break up the thick milk.
6 Chill and serve: The horchata can now be served over ice, but I recommend chilling until very cold before pouring it over ice and enjoying. Drink as it is or add spiced rum!
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Marta Rivera is trained chef with over 20 years in the culinary field and the blogger behind Sense & Edibility. She graduated from the Baltimore International Culinary College with degrees in Culinary Arts and Classical Pastries. Her cookbook is Taste and See Cooks.
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