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Horchata: The History of the Delicious Beverage & How to Make it at Home

First Posted: Nov 16, 2013 12:39 PM EST
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Orxata de xufa, the delicious milky beverage made from ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley or tigernuts (chufa nuts), better known as Horchata, varies in name and flavor from region to region. The sweet and infectious drink, which is served chilled or over ice, originated in Valencia, Spain, has become a favorite natural summertime refreshment throughout Europe and South America.

In Mexico, Guatemala and the U.S.

Taquerias often have large dispensing fountains, where the rich liquid rotates in the belly of the large containers, waiting to act as the perfect accompaniment to tacos, burritos and other fast food-style Latin food. In Mexico and Guatamala, Horchata is made with rice and cinnamon, and often with vanilla. The United States on the most part has adopted the rice-based or, less frequently used, morro horchata of Mexico, and horchata is sometimes available in grocery stores in powder form or is sold ready-made. Some places in the U.S .even offer Horchata Frappes.

in Honduras, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela

Southern Honduras and El Salvador use morro seeds, not rice, but includes the traditional tigernuts, as well as peanuts, almonds and cashews. It is strained before it is served. Other parts of Honduras and Nicaragua refer to horcata as semilia de jacaro, and it is made from jicaro seeds ground with rice and spices. Puerto Rico calls the drink horcata de ajonjoli, and uses ground sesame seeds, water, sugar, cinnamon sticks and evaporated milk; sometimes coconut milk, allspice, barley and lime zest is used. Venezuela uses sesame seeds, water and sugar; but, they also make chichi, a similar drink, is comprised of rice flour, sugar, water and an alcohol made from fermented corn flour. In Ecuador, they use an infusion of 18 herbs.

Horchata Word Origin from Catalan

In terms of etymology, the name derives from the Catalan word orxata, from ordiiata, because the drink was made from ordi (barley). There are farce tales regarding the development of the name, including one legend where Spanish Conquistador James I of Aragon visited the village of Alboraria for the first time, and partook of the sweet beverage, and allegedly proclaimed, "Açò és or, xata!" ("That's gold, darling!").

"The gold" is fairly easy to make at home, but does take patience in order to yield delicious results. There are thousands of recipes on the internet, adding and subtracting key ingredients, but there are also traditional recipes that are rumored to be quiet delicious:

Authentic Mexican Horchata

Makes 4-6 cups

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup uncooked, long-grain white rice
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cups water, divided (3 cups hot, 2 cups cold)
  • ½ cup concentrated simple syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water)

Preparation

  1. Blanch the almonds by tossing them into boiling water for about a minute, then draining under cold water. After blanching, give each of those little guys a squeeze and the skins should slip right off. Once the almonds are blanched, skinned, and dried, toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat until lightly brown.
  2. Pulverize the rice in a spice grinder or blender. Take your time and make sure it reaches a fine powder.
  3. Add the ground rice to a large jar or bowl (we used jars) with the almonds and cinnamon stick (see if you can get your hands on a Mexican cinnamon stick). Stir in the 3 cups of hot water, allow to cool to room temperature then cover and let stand overnight (not in the fridge!).

THE NEXT DAY:

  1. Transfer the mixture into your blender, add the 2 cups of cold water and blend until it is nice and smooth. How long you do this for will depend on the power of your blender; it will take at least a minute and up to four.
  2. Strain the blended mixture slowly into a pitcher- most recipes require that you use a strainer lined with three layers of cheesecloth, but if you're like us, go ahead and use a fine mesh tea strainer. We found it easiest to strain a small amount, guiding it through with a spoon, and then discard the stuff that was left behind (don't be fooled if this stuff looks tasty, it's really not).
  3. Add concentrated simple syrup. When preparing the syrup beforehand, you can either dissolve it on the stove or in the microwave. If you try it and would like it sweeter, use more.
  4. Refrigerate. Serve over ice. Garnish with cinnamon/cinnamon stick. Salud!
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