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Wednesday Food: Mexican Horchata (kill-free)

First I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who participated in last week’s post.  I received a number of private missives from people (mostly non-academics) admitting they hadn’t had the debate since college.

This week I’m featuring the presumably less controversial Mexican horchata.  It’s the milky-looking drink you often see on the counter or at the bar of a Mexican restaurant.  As a child I assumed it was just milk and went through an ill-advised phase of only drinking my milk if there were ice cubes in it.

The drink is fundamentally composed of seed or grain that is ground, soaked, strained, and sweetened.  As with so many foods, the history of this one follows the path of conquerors.  My understanding is that Ancient Egyptians first mastered the beverage using the dried tuber of the chufa sedge (or tigernut– a hardy grass seed).  It was then taken up by the Moors who occupied the Iberian Peninsula and brought it to Eastern Spain, where it is still cultivated and fiercely protected for quality.  Spanish conquistadors then brought it to the Americas where different variations developed by region.

In Mexico it’s made by grinding rice (and sometimes a variety of nut) with a metate and mano, and soaking the grounds with canella (cinnamon bark) and often lime, overnight.  The liquid is then strained from the pulp and sugar is added– the order of this process seems to vary.  I used this recipe, but halved the sugar and added the juice from the grated lime.  Served over ice it’s incredibly refreshing and energizing, and I suspect would do just as well in an ice cream maker or mixed with rum as a cocktail.

Warm up by your indulgent sun or pathetic radiator, and sip a cool glass of (vegan!) horchata.


March 30, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food


  1. So lime here refers to the fruit and not to cal?

    Comment by ben | March 30, 2011

  2. The name “horchata” strongly suggests that it was formerly made with barley, just like orgeat. (Indeed!)

    Interesting to learn that prior to refrigeration nut and grain milks were favored because they would keep at room temperature (and nuts and at least certain grains are pretty fatty).

    Comment by ben | March 30, 2011

  3. As you see, the derivation is attributed to the Latin hordeum and some cute story about a little girl and the Aragon King.

    The method– extracting the nutritional content of a plant matter into liquid form– was what interested me. I’m sure historically it was applied to a variety of grains. The chufa carries a high fat content but also a high vitamin and mineral bill. Here’s an interesting study from the International Journal of Agriculture and Biology comparing the nutritional content of chufa (tigernut)with soybean and coconut milk–

    It’d be interesting to experiment with different grains. Admittedly, the recipe I linked to is basically dessert– white rice, almonds, sugar.

    Comment by ebolden | March 30, 2011

  4. And yes I meant the fruit, not calcium hydroxide.

    Comment by ebolden | March 30, 2011

  5. “I received a number of private missives from people (mostly non-academics) admitting they hadn’t had the debate since college.”

    The luxury of college: thinking about your food once for about five minutes while stuffing your face with vealwiches. Please, someone alert the undergraduate experience office so they can add it to their brochures!

    Comment by Craig | March 30, 2011

  6. My college had a veal tank, like from that one episode of 30 Rock.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | March 30, 2011

  7. It’d be interesting to experiment with different grains.

    I grew up drinking a beverage called yulmu cha, which is made of a ground grain mixed with hot water to make a thick, milky “tea.” Sometimes there are nuts ground in with the grain. I see that it’s translated to English as “Job’s tears.” I don’t know why. It isn’t bitter.

    Comment by jms | March 30, 2011

  8. I bet this tastes great.

    Comment by ben | March 30, 2011

  9. 8. Hey, that’s bori cha. I didn’t know it went by another name. You may have had it, if you go to Korean restaurants or bars at all — it’s frequently served cold in place of water.

    I’ve never had it sweetened though. I’ve never even heard of that.

    Comment by jms | March 30, 2011

  10. Oh! Then I have had it and it was good!

    Comment by ben | March 31, 2011

  11. jms/ ben have you ever made it? Can you forward a recipe?

    Comment by ebolden | March 31, 2011

  12. It’s very simple — you just boil the bori, which is darkly roasted whole barley, for like twenty minutes or so, and drink the result either hot or chilled. It tastes just like water, but toasted.

    It’s also easy to roast your own barley. Make sure it’s unhulled, and roast it very dark.

    Comment by jms | March 31, 2011

  13. There’s a recipe in the link in 8, if you don’t mind it Japanese-stylee.

    Comment by ben | March 31, 2011

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