In the United States, we mostly associate horchata with Mexican restaurants, which serve it ladled out of a glass jug along with other aguas frescas, such as jamaica and tamarindo. Yet, the milky drink has a wide range of regional varieties across Latin America.
Originally made from soaked tiger nuts in Spain, horchata traveled across the Americas and evolved to include ingredients like rice, cinnamon, morro seeds, and even ice cream. In some regions, dairy’s added to the mix, while in other places, the seed or nut milk can replace milk.
Even though horchata differs from region to region, for most, it’s a refreshing treat that can also be a form of nostalgia for those living abroad.
“Horchata is home because there’s no other place that makes it like Oaxacans do,” explains Areli Morales, a first generation Oaxacan-American from Los Angeles. “It’s kind of what a coffee break would be to European culture, but for us, it’s the horchata with tuna [prickly pear] ice cream. It’s a refreshing treat you enjoy with family after a hot day.”
“In Venezuela, my sister or cousin would go after school to buy chicha on the side of the road,” recalls Maria Jose Hernandez of the horchata-style drink from her home country. “I didn’t like it when I lived in Venezuela, but I started liking it when I moved to the US. I learned cultural appreciation for it. It’s a homey thing that my dad makes.”
Since it’s not always easy to find these regional drinks in the US, we’ve compiled a list of horchatas that show the evolution and complexity of this delicious elixir.
This version is among Mexico’s most recognizable. Rice, which soaks for at least an hour, is the most crucial ingredient in the drink. Afterward, it’s mixed with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cinnamon before its served over ice.
Like much of the dishes from this Mexican state, Oaxacan horchata is a layered and multi-textured drink. The milk’s made by soaking rice overnight, grinding it with a metate, and adding cinnamon. It’s then served in a cup and topped off with chopped walnuts, pieces of melon, and tuna (prickly pear) ice cream.
In Oaxaca, horchata’s a special treat served on a hot day and is often consumed as a dessert rather than a thirst quencher.
Even though it has a different name, Venezuelan chicha most resembles the horchata found in other Latin American countries. The drink is made by soaking rice overnight then blending it all together with cinnamon, vanilla extract, milk and condensed milk to create a thick and creamy consistency. It’s served chilled and often sold on the side of the road by street vendors called chicheros. In some places in Venezuela, pasta is used in place of rice.
This typical Salvadoran drink is also known as morro horchata because of the use of morro (or jicaro) seeds. These tiny seeds are found inside the fruit of the Calabash tree and contain high levels of protein. To make this horchata, morro seeds are toasted with peanuts, rice, and cinnamon as well as pumpkin, and sesame seeds. The dry ingredients are then ground together, soaked in water and strained. The final liquid is served chilled with the option to add milk. While morro seeds are not commonly found in the US, some Latino markets will sell the dry ingredients prepackaged and ready for toasting.
In Nicaragua, the horchata recipe is very similar to the one found in El Salvador. Here, morro seeds are called jicaro seeds and are toasted along with rice and cinnamon. The mixture is then ground and added to water or milk with sugar.
Puerto Rican Horchata
Also known as horchata de ajonjoli, this drink is made by boiling water, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and then soaking it overnight with ground sesame seeds. In the morning, the resulting mixture is strained with cheesecloth and served chilled (sometimes with a splash of rum).
Ecuadorean horchata is entirely different than the varieties found in the rest of Latin America. To make this drink, more than 28 medicinal plants are infused to create a red herbal tea which is then served with lemon juice and honey. It’s common in the Andean region of Loja where it’s sold hot or cold and said to treat a variety of ailments. Some of the most common herbs found in this horchata variety are chamomile, mint, lemon verbena, lemongrass, bloodleaf, and rose geranium.