Looking for a refreshing drink that’s perfect for warm weather? Give my homemade horchata recipe a try! It’s made with rice, cinnamon, and vanilla. This traditional Mexican drink is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth and quench your thirst.
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This easy horchata recipe is a creamy and delicious agua fresca to enjoy on a warm day. It’s one of my favorite drinks to order at Mexican restaurants. The sweet cinnamon-spiced rice flavor is a treat and pairs nicely with shrimp or chicken tacos. The key is soaking the grains the night before in order to use them the next day.
It only takes a few simple ingredients to make an authentic Mexican horchata. The base is uncooked white rice, cinnamon sticks, milk, and a sweetener. Each region in Latin America and Spain has its own special version of this beloved drink. After some taste testing, my recipe has just the right amount of creaminess and spice. It’s the perfect drink to sip to tame the heat of spicy Mexican food.
- Rice: Use any type of white rice to make horchata. Uncooked long grain works best as it hydrates quicker than medium or short varieties.
- Cinnamon: Use whole cinnamon sticks to give a strong sweet spice taste compared to ground cinnamon. Mexican cinnamon, called Canela, is recommended as the sticks are softer and larger in size. Regular Saigon cinnamon can be used but is harder and will need more blender time to break down.
- Almonds: Sliced almond or blanched adds a depth of flavor with their nutty taste. This ingredient is optional to add.
- Water: The liquid helps to process the rice and cinnamon stick in the blender. Use room temperature to cool water.
- Milk: Use whole milk or evaporated milk for a creamier consistency. Plant-based milk can be used but won’t be as creamy.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar or sweetened condensed milk can be used to sweeten the drink.
- Vanilla: A small amount of vanilla extract enhances the sweet, spiced taste.
Wash the rice
It’s important to wash the rice before soaking it. The grains can pick up dirt and debris during processing. Since the rice water is used to make the drink, it’s good to clean it. Use warm water, scrubbing the grains until the water runs clear.
The brief exposure to heat slightly softens the rice so that it hydrates quicker but doesn’t cook it. Wash in a fine mesh strainer, then press out the water and drain well.
Blend the rice mixture
Use a high-speed blender to effectively break down the tough ingredients. Add the rice, cinnamon stick, sliced almonds, and two cups of water. Blend on high speed until they are ground down, about 1 minute. Add two more cups of water, and continue to blend for 30 seconds.
This step breaks down all of the ingredients so that they release more flavor, and the rice softens to flavor the drink. There should be some small pieces of rice and almonds left. You want to be able to strain the ingredients.
The hardest part of making horchata is having enough patience to wait for the rice to soak. You’ll need at least 8 hours for the rice mixture to fully infuse its flavor into the water. I recommend making the mixture in the morning if you plan to serve it for dinner or the night before.
You can place the blender cup directly in the refrigerator to chill or transfer to a large bowl or container and cover it. It’s safer to refrigerate the mixture so that it’s not sitting in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140ºF (4.4 to 60ºC) as it’s soaking. This also makes the mixture cooler when ready to serve.
For the smoothest texture, strain the mixture through four layers of cheesecloth set on top of a fine mesh strainer. This gives two methods to catch any of the granules of rice, almonds, and cinnamon. Gather the cheesecloth into a pouch and very gently squeeze out the liquid to extract more flavor.
The strained liquid can be strained again if desired. A nut bag can also be used. It has even finer pores to separate the liquid from the rice mixture. However, it will take more time to separate.
Flavor the Horchata
The rice water has a bland taste, so it needs milk, a sweetener, and vanilla to enhance the flavor. Whisk in the milk or evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla extract. Stir until the sugar granules are completely dissolved. Simple syrup can be used instead to quickly disperse into the drink, adjusting the amount to taste.
This recipe for horchata is easy and fun to customize! Try these different flavor variations to switch things up.
- Make it Dairy Free: Use soy, coconut milk, cashew milk, rice milk, or almond milk.
- Chocolate: Dutch-processed cocoa powder, melted chocolate, or Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate tablets can be used for a chocolatey taste.
- Coffee: Add shots of espresso or instant coffee for a kick of caffeine.
- Fruit: Blend whole fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or bananas for a fruit twist.
- Nuts: Add sliced almonds, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, or shredded coconut for a nutty flavor.
- Extracts & Spices: Vanilla extract or add a whole sliced vanilla bean when soaking the rice. Almond, coconut, banana, rum, pumpkin pie spice, or strawberry extracts can be added in small amounts to bump up the taste.
- Matcha: Add matcha powder for a green tea-flavored and colored horchata.
- Alcohol: Add a splash of rum, tequila, or coffee liquor like Kahlua for a horchata-inspired cocktail.
- Add the rice milk to popsicle molds for a frozen treat.
- Warm it up to use as the base for a latte or tea latte.
- Pair with chips and your favorite dips like salsa, guacamole, or pico de Gallo.
- Make it on a hot day when grilling elotes.
- Serve with churros for dessert.
Frequently asked questions
Mexican horchata uses uncooked white rice. Spanish horchata uses tiger nuts also called chufa. Both need to be soaked to soften and infuse it’s flavor into the beverage.
Use ½ to 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. The aroma is not as strong, but it will give the characteristic spice taste. Don’t add too much or the color will get very brown and overpower the milk taste.
If hot water is used instead of cool water to blend the rice mixture, the rice grains will start to swell and cook. As the mixture sits, the starches in the rice will gel up, giving a slimy texture. Use room temperautre or cold water when making horchata.
Use evaporated milk for a creamy horchata
For the creamiest texture, use evaporated milk instead of whole milk. It’s milk that has 60% of the water removed. The extra milk solids give a thicker consistency. It’s been heat treated, so it will have a slightly cooked taste, which adds depth. For an even richer texture and caramel flavor, add sweetened condensed milk, which has 60% of the water removed, plus added sugar. Add ¾ cup of sweetened condensed milk instead of the sugar.
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- 1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
- ½ cup sliced almonds, optional
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cups cold water, divided
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, or evaporated milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Wash the Rice – Add rice to a fine-meshed strainer. Rinse under running warm water until the water runs clear, scrubbing the rice in between your fingers several times, about 30 seconds. Shake and lightly press with hands to drain.
- Blend – To a high-speed blender, add the rice, cinnamon, almonds (if using), and 2 cups water. Blend on high spend until the ingredients are ground, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 cups of water and blend on high speed for 30 seconds. There should be some small pieces, and not be completely smooth.
- Soak – Cover and transfer the blender cup to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 8 hours or overnight. Alternatively, transfer to a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
- Strain – Pour the rice mixture through a fine mesh strainer lined with a triple layer of cheesecloth into a large bowl or pitcher. Form a pouch with the cheesecloth and gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Discard the cheesecloth and solids. For an even smoother consistency, strain again.
- Flavor the Horchata – To the strained rice mixture, stir in the milk, sugar, and vanilla. Add more sweetener to taste.
- To Serve – Refrigerate before serving. Pour the horchata over ice, garnished with more ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick.
- Recipe Yield: About 6 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Storing: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
- Cinnamon Selection: Soft Mexican cinnamon (canela) is used for this recipe. Saigon cinnamon has a slightly sweeter taste, most commonly found in the market. Blending time may be needed to break down the harder cinnamon. For a stronger taste, add two sticks.
- Using Ground Cinnamon: Add ½ to 1 teaspoon for 1 cinnamon stick.
- Using Sweetened Condensed Milk: Add ¾ cup (180 ml, 6 ounces) to replace the sugar.
- Sweetener Options: Replace sugar with pure maple syrup or honey.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Use coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, or soy milk.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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