While there are other kinds of horchata, horchata made from rice are the most popular and common. So much so that most people don’t even know different types of horchata exist. In its most basic form, horchata de arroz (rice) is rice flour blended with cold water. See the history of horchata below for more information. This horchata has no spices or added sugar and was once considered a healthy drink. Presently horchata is more of a sweet summer dessert-like drink that no longer retains its older healthy image. I live in the southwest, where horchata is very popular at Mexican restaurants, and here we think of horchata de arroz as Mexican horchata. Many Mexican recipes have cream, evaporated milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. These are cooked and are very sweet. That is different from the kind of recipe I have here. The recipe and method I am providing are how horchata was prepared in the 19th and 18th centuries.
The History Of Horchata
I will start by saying I am not a doctor, and you should consult a professional for medical advice. The information that follows is from a historical perspective. Horchata-style drinks originated in ancient Greece as a drink called “Kykeōn” (Greek. κυκεών) which means to stir or mix. Kykeōn was a drink made by stirring barley flour and water to make a simple health drink. The Romans adopted the Greek barley and water health drink and called it “Hordeum,” which is the origin of the present-day word Horchata. As the Roman language splintered, the Occitan dialect would refer to barley water as “Orjat,” which is where the French term Orgeat comes from. The Italian dialect would use the word “Orzata,” and the Castilian/Spanish dialect used “Orchata.” Since this is typically a Spanish drink, I will use the Spanish word Horchata to refer to this style of drink and its many variations from here on.
Horchata traditionally was only barley flour dissolved in cold water. It was seen as a tonic/health drink that anyone could make at home without a technical understanding of measuring and extracting medicines from various medicinal plants. Essentially any mother or nanny could make this for a sick child. They didn’t have to be a pharmacist to be able to make it effective and safe. As other starchy mineral-rich food became more common, they were ground up and mixed with water to create new styles of horchata. Horchata de arroz (Rice horchata), Horchata de chufas (Tiger nut horchata), lentil horchata, carrot stem, rye, foxglove, etc. (Although, unlike the others, foxglove can be dangerous.) and regular barley water horchata became known as common horchata or “Horchata Comun.” These drinks are similar because they are mineral-rich, starchy drinks that can easily be made by stirring the ground flour with cold water. Today the most common horchata is rice horchata, which is seen as more of a fun, sweet summer drink than a healthy drink. Traditional barley water is still a healthy drink, while the others have mostly fallen off. Tiger nut horchata is still prevalent in Spain too. Rice horchata typically has sugar and spices added for flavor, but its oldest form was just rice flour and water.
Horchata In English
Horchata doesn’t translate to English as it doesn’t exist outside of Spanish influence in English cultures. Even in English, it’s just horchata. The oldest kind of horchata was made from barley, so the English equivalent would be barley water. Therefore the closest match of horchata made from rice would be rice milk, horchata made from tiger nuts would be tiger nut milk, and horchata made from grains and cereal would be oat milk.