Horchata (Cinnamon Rice Milk)

When we initially started work on The World in a Skillet, we wrote a lot of great material, but it quickly became obvious that if we were to include everything we had originally hoped to include, no one would be able to lift the finished book. This is a recipe that Pepe Magallanes of Las Tortugas shared with us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for it in the book.

In a column in the New York Times, food writer John T. Edge called horchata the “new sweet tea for a multi-cultural South.” It definitely has some of the same appeal as our beloved sweet tea. It’s been around for a long time, it’s very refreshing on a hot day, and it imparts a sense of place at the first icy sip. It’s also becoming a favorite beverage for Southerners of every age.

Pepe and Jonathan Magallanes of Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana serve gallons of horchata to their patrons every day. One special difference in their version is the use of toasted cinnamon. Toasting changes the flavor by bringing out more of the cinnamon’s essential oils. That difference adds layers of complexity that you can’t help but notice.

Horchata (Cinnamon Rice Milk)

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 10 hrs
Total Time 10 hrs 20 mins
Servings 1 /2 gallon


  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 3/4 cup raw sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 ounce stick Mexican cinnamon about 1 4-inch stick


  • Place the rice in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of water to cover the rice and allow it to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  • Puree the rice and soaking water in a food processor or blender until the mixture is smooth. Strain the rice and water through a fine mesh sieve into a 1/2-gallon container.
  • Return any rice particles caught in the strainer to the soaking bowl and add at least 1 cup of water to cover the rice a second time. Allow the rice to soak for 1 minute.
  • Strain the water from the second soaking into a food processor. Add the sugar and honey, and pulse until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the mixture to the 1/2-gallon container along with the milk and vanilla extract.
  • Separate the stick cinnamon into thin layers. Break the layers into pieces no larger than 1/2-inch by 1/4-inch. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon pieces and toast, moving constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes or until half of the cinnamon has turned a dark brown.
  • Crush the toasted cinnamon in a mortar and pestle and add to the 1/2-gallon container.
  • Add water to the mixture to make 1/2 gallon. Stir well to combine. Seal the container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Strain and serve over ice.

Kitchen Passport

Try using Carolina Gold rice in your horchata for a slightly nuttier flavor and gorgeous yellow color.

While it is certainly delicious without it, homemade horchata is even better when paired with that old Southern favorite, bourbon. It’s a match made in heaven. The creaminess of the horchata takes the bite out of the bourbon while the bourbon adds a rich caramel overtone that cuts the sweetness of the horchata. It’s reminiscent of the Southern classic, milk punch, but it’s just different enough to stand apart. You could also use rum, preferably dark, or cognac to spike this drink. We add rye whiskey and a few drops of Xocolatl Mole™ Bitters to create our original cocktail, The El Señor John T.

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