The truth is, there is no one way of making horchata. Other countries have their own unique spin on the drink, all using different plant-based ingredients.
In Puerto Rico, the drink is known as horchata de ajonjoli, which usually consists of ground sesame seeds, rum, and coconut milk. In Central America, countries like El Salvador and Honduras call it semilla de jicaro, and it’s made using the licorice-flavored seeds from the calabash (a gourd that grows on a tree). In Ecuador, horchata lojana is more of a red herbal tea made from flowers.
While horchata de chufa was popularized in Spain, it originated in North Africa, specifically present-day Nigeria and Mali, as far back as 2400 B.C. The Moors brought it to Spain during the Muslim conquest. In Valencia it got its name, “horchata.” Before that, it was known as “kuunu aya,” as it’s still popularly known in Nigeria.
African countries have a long history of influencing Latin American culture. You can see it in the music, the languages, and most importantly, in the food. From the ingredients to the spices to the cooking techniques, Latin cuisine is a fusion of multiple cultures, including those from Africa.
This is largely because many Latin American countries have significant populations of people of African ancestry, due to the slave trade and other migration movements. In fact, Brazil has the largest concentration of people of African ancestry outside of Africa. Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela also have sizable populations of people of African descent, notwithstanding years of colorism in those countries, even to the point of attempts at ethnically cleansing. Horchata de chufa is a tribute to the resilience of Black Latin American culture. People have found ways to preserve their African traditions, especially in their food. And these traditional dishes are still beloved both within and outside the Latin community.
No matter what version of horchata you choose to indulge in, the famous Latin American drink is now part of North American food culture as well, whether it’s the classic recipe or a flavor of ice cream. Latin American cuisine has always been a beautiful melange of cultural influences, and its African roots are an essential part of that mosaic.