What Is Mexican Horchata And What Should It Taste Like?

If you have never tasted horchata, chances are you know what it is or have at least seen it in restaurants, cafes, or even your local grocery store. Horchata has several variations around the world, but the Mexican version is probably the one that Americans are most familiar with. It is a rice-based drink that is sweetened with sugar, spiced with cinnamon, and sometimes flavored with vanilla. It's served cold (often over ice) and can be enjoyed all day. Plus, it's a great way to quell the spice of Mexican dishes like salsa verde cruda.  

While hugely popular in Mexico, horchata actually originated centuries ago in what is now Nigeria and Mali and was made from tiger nuts. The Moors introduced the drink to Spain, and the Spaniards, in turn, brought it with them during the invasion of the Americas where different variations were ultimately created. Spanish horchata, known as horchata de cufa, is still popular in Spain, and — although it features tiger nuts instead of the rice that Mexico uses — the results are similar: It is a sweet and spiced beverage that is surprisingly light and refreshing.

How does Mexican horchata taste?

Mexican-style horchata can be found ready-made, and there are also instant drink mixes where all you need to do is add water or milk. But homemade horchata usually involves soaking rice, almonds, and cinnamon sticks in water that is ultimately blended, strained, sweetened with sugar and further flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. Often, dairy or non-dairy milk is added for extra silkiness. Many people describe the flavor of Mexican horchata as similar to rice pudding.

There are a lot of personal twists you can put on horchata to make the drink tailored to your own likes. For instance, some people first toast the rice and nuts to give the drink a nutty flavor. You could also add fresh fruit like strawberries or apricots when you blend the other ingredients for a fruity burst. Try substituting coconut milk for regular milk to get just a hint of coconut flavor (it will also make it dairy-free). Cinnamon is the most popular spice for flavoring and garnishing horchata, but you can also try using nutmeg, clove, or even some pumpkin pie spice.