Horchata is one of the very first Mexican recipes I ever learned! Not to be confused with the Spanish version of horchata, Mexican horchata is made from rice. It is a popular agua fresca that I grew up drinking a lot, because my dad LOVES horchata!
When I was in the third grade, I had to do a “how to” presentation in front of my entire class. I can’t remember exactly why I decided to do my presentation on how to make horchata, but I do remember being so excited to share this delicious rice beverage with my mostly white classmates. I asked my abuela how to make it, and this is an adapted recipe from what she taught me!
I’ve tried many different recipes for horchata. For a while I started adding almonds- I’m not sure if this is authentic but it I like the subtle nutty flavor it adds. The recipe I’m sharing today is a very traditional Mexican horchata, but I do offer a short cut since this requires soaking rice over night.
What is horchata?
Horchata is a Mexican sweet rice drink that is very popular not only in Mexico but also in the US! Most people know of the dairy version with evaporated and condensed milk, but horchata can also be made dairy-free. My abuela told me that she grew up drinking dairy free horchata where she was from in Guadalajara.
Mexican horchata is typically made with rice, water, cinnamon, milk, and sugar. Sometimes horchata is made without dairy too- this is actually the kind of horchata my abuela grew up drinking and the original recipe she taught me did not have any dairy. Some people add vanilla extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, it can be overpowering. Some people also like to add almonds or oats. The rice & cinnamon sticks are soaked over night to soften and extract the flavors, then blended and strained. Then milk, sugar, and water are added and served over ice.
Spanish horchata, the original version, is a bit different. I have actually never tried it, but it’s traditionally made from Tiger nuts and is dairy-free.
Jasmine rice- traditionally, long grain jasmine rice is used to make horchata. I’ve made some with short grain rice before and the results were very similar, but it does not have exactly the same taste and aroma as jasmine rice.
Cinnamon sticks- I always have cinnamon sticks in my pantry specifically for making horchata, but you can also use ground cinnamon if you don’t have any at home.
Hot water- you will only need hot water if you are making the quick version. If you have the time to soak your rice over night, just use room temperature water. I always forget or don’t have the time when I decide I want to make horchata, so I blend the rice until it is pulverized and soak it in hot water for 1-2 hours so it softens even faster.
Evaporated & condensed milk- you can adjust the amounts of these depending on your preferences. Both are needed for the right consistency and taste.
Granulated sugar- adding sugar is totally optional. The horchata will already be sweet from the condensed milk. Most people in the US are accustomed to very sweet horchata. If you don’t want it that sweet, adjust the amount of sugar you are adding and taste as you go.
Cold water- more water will need to be added to the horchata at the end to thin it out a bit. Be careful not to add too much- remember that it will be served over ice which will water it down a bit more.
Ice- like my dad says, ice is the most important ingredient in horchata! This is more of a preference thing for my family, but we LOVE an ice cold horchata.
Tips for making the best horchata
Blend the rice if you’re short on time– Sometimes I want to make horchata but don’t want to have to wait for the rice to soak all night. You can speed up this process by pulverizing the rice and soaking it in very hot water for 1-2 hours. It will soften and hydrate much faster this way and doesn’t really compromise too much flavor.
Strain, strain, & strain again! I absolutely HATE it when horchata is grainy. It leaves your tongue feeling very gritty and dry, and it’s just not a pleasant feeling at all. To make the best horchata, you have to be willing to spend the time straining the heck out of it. Smooth horchata over crushed ice is *chef’s kiss*. I recommend using a fine mesh strainer AND a triple-layered cheese cloth for this! Pro tip- when you’re pouring the horchata over the strainer, try not to add the grains that are settled at the bottom. Throwing away a little bit of liquid is fine. This will reduce the amount of times you have to strain.
Make the horchata just a little thicker than you want it- when adding water at the end, remember that you want the consistency to be slightly thicker than you want it. This is because when you serve it with ice, it will water down a little more.
Add sugar little by little- everyone has different preferences for sweetness. I tend to lean towards less sweetened things, but for horchata I actually like it pretty sweet. I recommend 1/2 cup of sugar for this recipe but you may want to start out with 1/4 cup.
You can store this horchata in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You will know once it is undrinkable- it will turn into a sludgy consistency and won’t look appetizing at all.
Store in a glass bottle or mason jar that has been sanitized for the longest shelf life.
It is normal to see some sediment settled at the bottom of the bottle. As long as it doesn’t taste gritty to you, it’s fine to leave them. No need to shake before serving- it’s actually better if you don’t. Just lightly mix the top portion of the liquid and pour over lots of crushed ice to serve.
- fine mesh strainer
- cheese cloth
- 1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 cups hot water
- 14 oz condensed milk
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sugar optional
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract optional
- 3 cups cold water
- Blend one cup of jasmine rice until it is pulverized. If you are soaking your rice over night, you can skip this step.
- Add 4 cups of hot water and two cinnamon sticks. Give it a good shake/stir, then let it sit for 1-2 hours or until the water is cool enough to touch.
- Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Strain through a triple-layered cheese cloth AND a fine mesh strainer. This step is very important- you do not want a grainy horchata!
- Squeeze out all the liquid, then discard the remaining grains.
- Add the evaporated milk and condensed milk and stir well.
- Strain the horchata again. You may see a lot of grains settled at the bottom of the bowl while pouring it into the strainer- try not to add those bits. Taste the horchata- if it still has a grainy texture that leaves your tongue dry, strain again. I strongly dislike when horchata is grainy. Strain as many times as you need to!
- When you've strained enough, add the sugar. I like my horchata on the sweet side- if you don't like it that sweet, start with 1/4 cup of sugar. Optional: add 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract. I stopped adding vanilla extract to my horchata, I don't think it's necessary but you can add it if you want 🙂
- The horchata will be too thick at this point, so you'll need to add some water. For me, 3 cups of water is perfect. Just remember to keep your horchata slightly thicker than you want it, because it will water down a bit more once you serve it over ice.
- Refrigerate the horchata for up to 5 days. I recommend having it with lots of crushed ice 🙂