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The Many Shades of Horchata Milk

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Nut milk has long been a popular alternative to dairy milk for vegans and those suffering from lactose intolerance or dairy-related allergies. More recently, the list of dairy-free choices has expanded to include grain-based milk beverages, including one known as horchata.

Horchata originates from a Mediterranean tradition of grinding grains to create drinks (the name comes from the Latin word hordeata, which in turn originates from hordeum or barley). These drinks have been an important alternative form of protein for people consuming plant-based diets or living in places where dairy sources were unavailable.

There are many, many types of horchata around the world. Drinkers in the Mediterranean as well as Latin America, where the drink is also popular, have their preferred recipes and flavour combinations.

The sky really is the limit when picking your horchata ingredients. You can make a horchata drink from rice, sesame seeds, barley or even pumpkin and melon seeds. A popular version in the Mediterranean and parts of Africa is making horchata out of grains and tubers such as tiger nuts and rice.

Not that kind of nut

Don’t be fooled by the name: tiger nuts are not actually nuts. Although they come from the tuber family, they earned this misleading name because they have stripes like tigers and taste like almonds or pecans. Producers harvest the marble-sized tiger nuts from the yellow nutsedge plant.

Researchers have found that in West African countries such as Nigeria and Mali, tiger nuts are a popular and cheap source of protein. In this region, horchata is known as kunnu aya or horchata de chufas and made from soaked and sweetened tiger nuts, which are then blended into horchata milk. Full of starchy fibre, they help regulate blood sugar spikes and make you feel full. Tiger nuts are also filled with a host of vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and E.

The tiger nut is also an important element of horchata in Spain. In fact, there is a regulatory council in charge of ensuring the nuts’ traceability and quality of the production in relation to its origins. Aside from being a milk substitute, the Spanish horchata de chufas is served cold or with ice during summer and recommended together with fartons, a sweet spongy dessert made out of flour, sugar, eggs and milk.

Meanwhile, in Mexico and Guatemala, toasted rice is the preferred ingredient in their version of horchata, which is known as horchata de arroz. Vanilla or cinnamon powder are added to give this home cook-friendly recipe some added flavour.

Horchata at home

If you enjoy rice puddings, then you’ll love drinking a horchata beverage – it will remind you of the cold and milky dessert. Rice-based horchata can be chalky or starchy, so sugars are often added as a sweetener. If you’ve made your version with tiger nuts, you will find the texture and taste similar to regular nut milk, such as almond milk.

How is horchata made? The soaking, blending or grinding methods encourage the fat, protein and starch of your core ingredient to turn into a milky creamy texture known as suspension. These starchy molecules swell up in the water, leaving a slightly grainy taste. You can heat up your horchata to reduce the grittiness but keep it below 60 degrees Celsius to avoid a glue-like result.

You can use almonds in horchata recipe, but the quantities are much lower than almond milk (200 or 250 grams, rather than 400 or 500 grams). This means it is cheaper to make at home than almond milk. If you want to try something different, you can make horchata out of pumpkin seeds with this recipe that includes maple syrup and ginger.

Basic horchata milk recipe

Ingredients:

  • 165 grams of long-grain rice, rinsed and drained
  • 275 grams of blanched almonds
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 70 grams agave syrup
  • 220 millilitres seltzer water
  • A pinch of ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine the rice with three cups of hot water. Pulse for 30 seconds until the rice is broken to bits. Transfer to a large bowl, and add the almonds and cinnamon stick. Cover and set aside at room temperature to soak overnight, at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
  2. Transfer the rice, almonds, cinnamon stick, and soaking water to a blender or food processor. Pulse until smooth for two to three minutes. Strain the puree through a damp cheesecloth wrung out over a large bowl. Squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
  3. Add one cup of water to thin out the mixture, and stir in the agave syrup. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed. Transfer to a large pitcher or jar and place it in the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour. To serve, stir in the seltzer. Serve in tall glasses over ice, garnishing each with a pinch of ground cinnamon.
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