Sugar and Spice and Everything Rice: The Horchata Experience
There are a lot of great things about horchata, the rice, the cinnamon, the 24 hour process it takes to make it, the fact it should be its own food group, more like a Mexican dessert than a traditional Spanish drink. One of the best things though is that no knows for sure where it came from or how it got its name, so we’re totally going to make up whatever we want.
Watch out, amigos. We might just go mad with the power.
What we do know is that the drink traces back to ancient times. Most likely, it came from Egypt, because it seems everything awesome started in Egypt. It was made from something called a chufa, or “tigernut” (seriously, you just can’t make this kind of stuff up). The chufa seed was a major crop for the Egyptians and they used it for just about everything, including mummifying dead pharaohs. So naturally they thought, “hey, let’s make a drink out of that!” Honestly, nothing satisfies your thirst on a hot, sunny day quite like embalming materials, are we right or what?
There are a lot of different explanations out there about how the horchata got its name, but most of them are REALLY boring. So even though it’s way less likely, we went with the most entertaining story. When James I of Aragon got his first sip of horchata back in the day, he supposedly exclaimed, “Açò és or, xata!” or in other words, “That’s liquid gold!” The ‘or xata’ stuck, and we got the name “horchata.”
The drink made its way to Spain, where the Spaniards called dibs and basically claimed it as their own. And really who wouldn’t call this amazing concoction of deliciousness their own? We’d totally cheat our own grandmother out of royalties to trademark this bad boy (just kidding, Abuela! You know we love you).
Nowadays, the Spanish are still pretty serious about horchata. In fact, they even have a regulating council that decides which villages the drink can officially be produced from, and determine if they’re up to snuff. Kind of like the Champagne industry in France, only instead of grapes their main crop is tigernuts.
In Spain, the horchata is served ice-cold with a foot-long, donut-style pastry you can dunk in it called a farton. Nope. We didn’t stutter, and we didn’t make that part up. It’s actually called a farton. Nothing like a farton to go with your tigernuts.
From Spain, we move west to Mexico, where the recipe was modified again. No more chufa, but more rice. Why rice you ask? Because back in the day, horchata would be sold from carts that had been sitting out in the hot sun all day, so vendors didn’t want to use any milk that might go bad. Hence, the rice.
(Here At Cafe Rio, we’ve taken the Miley Cyrus route by using the Best of Both Worlds, milk & rice. We’re traditionalists like that, well and we aren’t selling it to you out of a cart so we can totally use milk, plus we think milk makes EVERYTHING taste better, even fartons.)
Horchata is versatile, depending on what region it comes from, recipes can add lime, almonds, vanilla, nutmeg, and even prickly pear fruit, which changes the name to horchata con tuna which sounds a lot like fish, but it’s actually not, ‘cause we tried it with fish, and it was gross).
If you’re trying to whip up a batch at home, it can take you anywhere from six hours to two days to get it right, which is a lifetime, so a better idea would be to just come to Café Rio! Ours is ready-to-go when you arrive. Just like all of our menu items, we make it from scratch, 24 hours per batch to blend, and trust us, it’s worth the wait!