Do you love horchata? This sweet, creamy, rice-and-almond-based drink is not to be missed, especially now that summer is here and a cool, refreshing drink is always appreciated. While traditional horchata contains milk and sugar, it can also be made without dairy and lends itself well to sugar alternatives such as agave or dates. Read on for our classic Mexican horchata recipe with some extra ideas for non-dairy and sugar-free alternatives.
There are almost as many variations of Mexican horchata as there are people who make it. It can be made with or without almonds, with or without milk, with or without vanilla. There are a few givens: it's served chilled, usually over ice, and contains at the very least least rice, cinnamon, and a sweetener. This said, there are other versions of horchata from Spain and other Latin American countries that do not contain rice at all, and instead begin with seeds or nuts — such as Spain's horchata de chufa made from tigernuts.
Our version below was passed on from a good friend who was born and raised in Mexico. This is her mother's recipe, the one she grew up with. It contains almonds and sweetened condensed milk, which give it a rich creaminess that is very lush and satisfying. As an adult, my friend sometimes likes to make a version without the sweetened condensed milk. She substitutes agave and a little more water instead, which also makes this a vegan treat.
It's traditional to use long grain white rice in Mexican horchata. Emily did an interesting experiment
using three different kinds of rice: basmati, long grain white and long grain brown. Her conclusion was that they were all basically good and favorites had to do with personal taste. This proves the point that horchata is quite a flexible concept and can be what you make it. I've tried to touch on some of the variations in the recipe notes, but please share your favorites in the comments.
I don't own a regular blender, so I use my stick blender for making horchata. For that reason, I use a large pitcher for my soaking bowl so I can soak and blend the rice and almond mixture in the same bowl, and then just pour it from there into the strainer. If you have a regular blender, you may find that soaking the rice and almonds in the blender's bowl is equally convenient.
The mixture will still have a little graininess (unless you are using a Vitamix, which may be able to completely pulverize the rice and almonds.)
How to Make Creamy Mexican Horchata
Makes about 6 cups
What You Need
1 cup long grain white rice
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1" to 3" piece of cinnamon stick
5 cups water, divided
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Ice for serving
Ground cinnamon for garnish
Bowl or jar for soaking
Blender (or stick blender)
Fine mesh strainer
Spatula or spoon
Soak the rice, almonds and cinnamon. Place the rice and almonds into a bowl. Break up the cinnamon stick into several pieces and add to the rice and almonds. Cover with 4 cups of hot (but not boiling) water. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
Blend the mixture. Using a stick or regular blender, blend the mixture until it is as smooth as possible. This can take as long as 2 to 3 minutes. (The cinnamon will soften as it sits and does not need to be removed before blending.)
Strain the mixture. Pour the mixture into a strainer set over a pitcher. Strain out as much liquid as possible, pushing on the solids with a spatula or spoon.
Add condensed milk and vanilla. Stir in the remaining cup of water, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Taste and add more sweetener or water as needed.
Serve. Add ice to the pitcher, stir again, and serve in glasses, garnished with the ground cinnamon. Enjoy!
Vegan Horchata: Eliminate the sweetened condensed milk and use 1/4 cup of vegan sugar or 3 tablespoons of agave instead. A little rice or almond milk can be added for more creaminess.
Alternative Sweeteners: Use 1/4 cup of honey, 3 tablespoons of agave, or 1/4 cup dates (add the dates to the soaking mixture.)
Creamier Horchata: Substitute 1 cup of milk for the final 1 cup of water for added creaminess.
Nut-Free or Non-Almond Horchata: This can be made without the almonds. You can also substitute another nut, like cashews.
- If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, line your regular strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth.
- If you can find it, try using Mexican cinnamon or canela.
- If you own a Vitamix, you may not have to strain the mixture.
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(Images: Dana Velden)