Frontera Grill’s Horchata Tres Leches Cake proves that drinking isn’t just for drinking. / Photo courtesy of Frontera Grill.
On the heels of restaurateurs’ warm embrace for churros comes horchata, and it turns out the two have more in common than just their growing popularity on menus. Both were introduced to Spain by the Moors centuries ago, after which they made their way to Latin American countries. Each is easy to like and demonstrates a surprisingly wide menu bandwidth.
Churros, fried treats finished with sugar and cinnamon, are popping up not only in sweet products, but also in savory applications and in beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Horchata, a plant-based drink whose formulation varies by country, follows suit. Most American diners come to love the Mexican variety, in which rice and water are combined, soaked overnight and then strained to remove particles. As with churros, the finishing touch is usually cinnamon and sugar, although many recipes add vanilla, some include almonds and others call for milk to enhance the creaminess.
According to RB’s sister company Technomic, the drink has seen a slow but steady increase in mentions on the menu, climbing 5% over the past year and 17% over the past five. But those numbers don’t reflect the range of creativity and versatility that combined to push him up the charts. For consumers, it offers a refreshing, plant-based option with an appealing global pedigree, and for restaurateurs, it offers great food cost, easy preparation and immediate promotion.
It’s sometimes served hot, but most of the time it’s cold.. While horchata is usually served cold, some operators adapt it to colder climates. For example, the Xurro Churro factory in Chicago offers a warming Horchata Cappuccino, perfect for that city’s long winters, but also pairs it with iced coffee, nitro and matcha versions. Many chains use it in cold brews, like The Cha Cha at Tacodeli, Peet’s Horchata Cold Brew Oat Latte, and Starbucks’ Horchata Almondmilk Frappuccino which is topped with whipped cream, a swirl of caramel and cinnamon and sprinkles of sugar.
In Dallas, Cocoandré Chocolatier is raising the profile of the staple drink by dressing the Cocoandré Plain Horchata with ingredients found in its famous line of handmade truffles, such as pecans, mocha, matcha, marzipan and strawberries. There’s also a nifty Dirty Horchata made with espresso.
It’s mixed or shaken, but not stirred. Quick and casual fruit juice! just launched a pair of items, the PB Horchata Smoothie and Blue Horchata Smoothie, which join the original Horchata Smoothie and Horchata Bowl that debuted last year. Pressed, specializing in cold-pressed juices, is also going blue with its Horchata Azul. The blue in both items comes from spirulina, a food supplement considered a superfood by its consumers. While none of the above products use dairy, Jamba Juice’s Lotta Horchata features fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt with almond milk and cold brew coffee.
On the subject of the shakes, there’s the fun Oreo Horchata Shake offered for a limited time at Del Taco. He added cookie chunks and horchata syrup to the vanilla shake, a combination that, in addition to fitting in perfectly with the chain’s wider food menu, made it the most successful shake offering ever. from last year.
It works well in cocktails. Horchata’s easy compatibility with other ingredients has spurred its use in bars. Laredo’s Grill in Seattle concocted an artful Frochata that married hvodka flavored with orchata, spiced rum and homemade horchata. Served iced, it winks at the craze for curly hair. Mexican restaurant chain El Vaquero has created a spirited CarajilloCocktail based on 100% agave alcohol, horchata rum and coffee. Diners who really wanted to treat themselves could add a scoop of vanilla for a Carajillo Float.
Last winter, Old Chicago Pizzeria and Taproom sold White Lies made with vodka, Rumchata horchata liqueur, heavy cream and simple syrup. BuzzBallz, which caused a stir at the last NRA show with a wide range of pre-made cocktails, suggested a double-barreled combination of Horchata and Choc Tease cocktails. Perhaps inevitably, the website posted a recipe for a horchata-spiced pumpkin cocktail with mashed pumpkin and coconut milk. Because, how could they not?
And it also plays well in food. Horchata is gaining popularity as a food ingredient, such as with Voodoo Donut’s Hole Lotta Horchata Donut which puts cream of horchata on the inside and cinnamon sugar on the outside. In contrast, Salty Donuts takes a brioche donut soaked in horchata and encrusts it with chocolate. The latter brand has also collaborated with Salt & Straw Ice Cream Shops on a limited edition donut-infused Horchata Donut ice cream.
La Newyorkina’s mission is to “share the sweetness of Mexico” with the Big Apple, which it accomplishes with horchata ice cream, paletas and mini-paletitas, or popsicles. Speaking of frozen treats, Baskin-Robbins’ frozen horchata sorbet with coconut cream appeals to vegans, as does the new cinnamon horchata with almond milk at Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt.
Then there’s Dirt Dogs, which serves “the official hot dog of Los Angeles” and where customers can choose from a wide assortment of hot dogs, followed by a choice of creative desserts like ice cream at the horchata with vanilla ice cream, house-made horchata syrup, Rice Krispies and almonds topped with a churro; Fried Oreos with Horchata Whipped Cream; Crunchata cheesecake made with horchata syrup; and a Deep-Fried Twinkie with a side of horchata whipped cream. In Las Vegas units, all of this can be hunted with Deez Nuts, a Rumchata shooter.
It also shines in more sophisticated items. In Jacksonville, Florida, Black Sheep, a modern American restaurant, has stepped up its seasonal and decidedly modern cuisine. Pumpkin and Horchata Panna Cotta with Almond Crunchies and Crisps, Peach and Pomegranate Compote. A perfect Horchata Tres Leches at Chicago’s famous Frontera Grill consisted of cake infused with 3 “milks” (almond, rice, coconut), plus mango mint salsa, toasted meringue and coconut alegria. Also in Chicago, Adorn Restaurant’s opening menu captured attention with breakfasts like Teeny Tiny Cereal Croissant with homemade horchata.
Finally, nothing offers a sweeter ending than a kiss, so the pastry chefs at Xochi, part of Houston’s award-winning H Town restaurant group, delight diners with Chocolate Besos for Valentine’s Day. The Oaxacan-inspired treats started with homemade roasted and ground cocoa beans, and the resulting chocolate was filled with jaw-dropping flavors like Strawberry Horchata and Champagne Caramel Rosé in a memorable and wildly Instagrammable presentation.
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