Agua Fresca revisited: A lighter, healthier Mexican horchata {#Vegan}

This lightened up horchata is dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan. It uses less sugar than traditional recipes while not compromising on that great horchata flavor.

The first time I can remember having horchata was as a child at my grandparent's house. When we were young, my sisters and I would sometimes spend the night all together if my parent's wanted date night or one at a time, for a special treat. Though we enjoyed all the siblings staying together, I don't think I'd be stepping out of bounds by saying I think each of us very much preferred our one-on-one time with my grandparents and aunties.

Grandma would make us her famous pancakes in the morning. They were ginormous, each the size of dinner plates and we'd get corn syrup instead of the Aunt Jemima we had at home. It felt so decadent. It was wonderful.

On one of these occasions, my grandfather made horchata. Now my aunt says she doesn't ever remember my grandfather making it but then again, she isn't a fan of the drink so I'm thinking it just didn't register. There is a part of me that doubts my memory. Maybe it was indeed my grandmother but there are pictures that pop into my mind when I think of it and in those instances, it's always my grandfather making it. Whomever made it, the drink itself made the biggest impression.

Cinnamony, creamy, light, slightly sweet and deliciously cold, it started a life-long love affair with not just agua frescas, but horchata specifically

It starts with soaking California long-grain rice and Mexican canela – ceylon cinnamon – overnight in water. Almonds are also typically soaked along with the rice and cinnamon however, I decided to I needed to make a couple of changes to the original recipe.

Traditionally, the rice mixtures is mixed with a combination of water, whole milk, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. All this dairy gives it a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Cane sugar is added and then it's served over ice. It's super rich, super refreshing and pairs especially well with spicy food or as a thirst quencher on a hot day.

Every time I order a glass at a restaurant, I'm sorely disappointed. It's often much too thick and sickeningly sweet for my taste.

I skipped the soaking of almonds because I decided to give my tummy a break from all that dairy and sweetened condensed milk by using almond milk and drastically reducing the sugar by using only a ½ cup in this recipe which makes 8 servings. The result is still creamy from the almond milk and the starch from the rice but it's so much lighter with just a touch of sweetness.

The rice and cinnamon gets blended on high for 2 minutes. In a high-powered blender, this will very nearly liquify them. Almost. 

If you do use a high-powered blender, then a nut milk bag is the best way to strain. A nut milk bag is a very fine weave mesh. I don't make my own nut milk. I actually use mine to make cold brew coffee. It works like a dream! But I digress. If I had used a cheesecloth-lined strainer, the leftover chalky rice and cinnamon fibers would have slipped right on through and the mouthfeel would have been completely off. So if you have a nut milk bag, it's definitely the way to go. If you're using a regular blender, you're going to have a more gritty liquid. In this case, if you don't have a nut milk bag, you'll be just fine using a cheesecloth-lined sieve.

I had about ⅓ of cup of sludgy, chalky rice and cinnamon left over after squeezing through the rice mixture. The resulting liquid was silky smooth.

Here's another tweak: Once you've strained your horchata, it's mixed with water and then poured into ice-filled glasses. But what if you're not making it for a party or large group and just for yourself and maybe a partner? Then I recommend keeping it in it's concentrated form and diluting it as needed. I love it this way. Just like keeping a bottle of concentrated cold brew coffee in the fridge. Just pour equal parts of concentrate and filtered water into a cocktail shaker with ice and give it good shake. Pour it into an ice-filled glass and you're golden. You can also use that concentrate in your morning smoothie. Or maybe in the evening, you can add a little rum for a satisfying evening cocktail.

However you enjoy it, give this recipe a whirl, adjusting the amounts to your taste.

Easy Dairy-free Horchata

This makes about 3 cups of horchata concentrate. If serving for a crowd, dilute the concentrate with an equal amount of water in an ice-filled pitcher. For a thicker horchata, dilute with less water.

Serves 8 - 10


1 cup California long grain rice
1 (4 or 5-inch) stick Mexican cinnamon
2 cups almond milk
½ cup white sugar, or more to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To serve:
equal amount of water
ground cinnamon, optional
cinnamon stick swivel, optional


The night before you plan on serving, add rice and cinnamon to a bowl. Add water to cover by 2 inches, cover with cling film and leave on the counter overnight.

The next day, drain water. Add rice and cinnamon to a blender along with the almond milk. Blend on high for 2 minutes or until rice is as fine as your blender can make it. Place a nut milk bag in a large bowl (or line a sieve with cheesecloth). Pour the horchata concentrate through the nut milk bag (or little by little into the sieve). Squeeze the bag, extracting all the liquid; discard the solids. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla until the sugar has dissolved.

If serving immediately to a crowd, pour into a large pitcher with an equal amount of cold filtered water and some ice. Serve in ice-filled glasses.

Or, pour concentrate into a container with a tight fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. When ready to serve, give the container a shake (the contents will most likely separate). Add equal parts concentrate and filtered water into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake well. Pour into an ice-filled glass.

Until next time friends… xo, ani