Making Horchata: Which Rice Is Best?

Last week's post on aguas frescas gave us a mean craving for Mexican-style horchata, a refreshing drink made with rice, cinnamon, and sugar. We decided to try making a batch at home and wound up making three, each with a different type of rice...

In Spain, where horchata originated, the beverage is made with chufas, or tigernuts. Cooks throughout Latin America often use rice or morro, jicara, or sesame seeds. Other typical ingredients include water, milk, almonds, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and lime. With or without dairy, the drink is incredibly creamy, cool, and thirst-quenching.

Most recipes for Mexican-style horchata call for generic long grain white rice. The only long grain white rice we had in the pantry was Indian Basmati, and though we found some horchata recipes listing Basmati, we also read online comments warning against it. This piqued our curiosity, and we decided to give the Basmati a chance. We also picked up some regular long grain white rice at a Mexican market and thought we'd give the long grain brown rice in our pantry a try, too.

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We made each batch with rice, almonds, a cinnamon stick, and water. After refrigerating the mixtures overnight, we blended each with agave nectar, strained, poured them over ice, and put them to the taste test.

The verdicts:
Long grain white rice – This had the most authentic flavor (i.e., similar to the horchata we've had from Mexican restaurants and street vendors). The rice flavor was mostly neutral, letting the cinnamon shine through, but it was slightly chalky.
Basmati rice – Basmati had the strongest, most aromatic and "rice-y" flavor. One of us kept changing her mind about whether she liked it, while the other considered it his favorite of the three.
Long grain brown rice – As expected, this had a distinctly nutty flavor. Even though it didn't taste exactly "authentic," it was this writer's favorite version.

None of them were bad, and if you had only one type of rice on hand and didn't want to buy another just to make horchata, we'd recommend you go for it. This wasn't a rigorous test, of course, and other factors such as quality of rice could make a difference. But it was a fun – and refreshing! – experiment, and we're already plotting another round with Jasmine rice, short grain, black rice...

Here's the recipe we used (substituting agave for sugar):
Horchata De Almendra, from Rick Bayless

Related: Farmers' Market Inspiration: Aguas Frescas

(Images: Emily Ho and Gregory Han)