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National Horchata Day

Horchata, a creamy drink that usually is mild and sweet in flavor, is made of soaked grains—such as rice—ground tiger nuts, or ground almonds, or some combination of these, as well as with spices. Seeds are sometimes added, and it may be sweetened with sugar. It usually doesn't contain dairy, and sometimes it is spiked with alcohol. It can be found at Starbucks, ampm, Walmart, and some grocery stores.

What would become horchata likely got its start in around 2400 BCE, in North Africa, in the areas that now are Mali and Nigeria. Here a drink called kunnu aya was made with tiger nut milk. The tiger nut, or chufa, is not actually a nut, but is a tuber, and has its name because it looks like a hazelnut. This early form of horchata was brought to Spain by the Moors. The name horchata likely came from a medical elixir made from barley that was drunk in ancient Rome. The Latin word for barley is hordeum, and hordeata is the Latin name for a drink made with barley. This drink made its way from Rome to Spain.

The tiger nut drink of North Africa and the barley drink from Rome came together in Spain, and horchata de chufa was created and rose in popularity. It was imported to the Americas in the sixteenth century, where it was made with rice instead of tiger nuts, and became known as Mexican rice horchata. This horchata, the most common form of horchata today, contains rice, water, sugar, and spices, particularly cinnamon. Nutmeg, cloves, all-spice, star anise, and vanilla may also be included. In Mexico, it is sometimes augmented with edible flowers and fruits. The rice is soaked in water and cinnamon for hours, is strained, sugar is added, and it is served over ice. The flavor is reminiscent of rice pudding.

The ingredients and flavors of horchata vary a bit by culture and location. In Puerto Rico, it is made with sesame seeds and spices and known as horchata de ajonjoli. Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador have semilla de jicaro, which is made with seeds that taste like licorice from the gourd-like jicaro (calabash) tree. Ecuador has horchata lojana, which is made from flowers and herbs, instead of herbs and grains. Rose, geranium, and red amaranth are some of the ingredients commonly used to make this red-hued herbal tea. It is named after the province of Loja, where it gained in popularity.

National Horchata Day, celebrated today, was created in 2019 by convenience store chain ampm, one of only a few convenience stores that sell the drink. In fact, horchata is their top-selling drink. They created the day to raise awareness about horchata and to "celebrate with the people who already know and love it." Being that horchata is rooted in Spanish culture, ampm wanted "to pay homage to its Latinx fans" and celebrate with them during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

How to Observe National Horchata Day

Enjoy some horchata with family and friends. You could make your own or purchase it at a place such as ampm. Be on the lookout for horchata-related deals, giveaways, and contests from ampm, which they have organized during past celebrations. Make sure to talk about horchata and National Horchata Day and post about them on social media.

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