TASTE
07/10/2014 07:00 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2014

Horchata Is Your New Best Friend This Summer

Kimberlee Reimer via Getty Images

If you've never had horchata, and even if you have, listen up. There's a lot more to this sweet beverage than you might think. Horchata is a milky, but dairy-free, drink that originated in Valencia, Spain (also the birthplace of paella). It was originally made with tiger nuts (which are not actually not nuts at all, but tubers that grow in the ground, much like potatoes). Confused yet? We're just getting started.

Spanish colonists brought horchata to Mexico, where it spread to the rest of Latin America and became a popular agua fresca, which literally translates to "fresh water." In Mexico and the rest of Latin America, horchata looks a lot different than the tiger nut horchata from Spain. In Mexico and Guatemala, horchata is typically made with rice and cinnamon, and in parts of Honduras and El Salvador, it's made with seeds from the morro fruit, which has a hard shell and resembles a coconut. In other parts of Hondurus and Nicaragua, horchata is made with jicaro seeds and spices. In Puerto Rico, the drink might be made with sesame seeds, evaporated milk, and even coconut milk. The variations don't stop there -- some horchatas are more watery than others, and some are really creamy. Horchatas can be subtly sweet or dessert-like, and they could include a wide variety of spice blends.

While there are many variations, the basic process of making horchata is similar across the board. First, you pulverize the rice or nuts, whichever you are using, then soak them -- preferably overnight -- blend them with cold water and, finally, strain the mixture.

Did you get all that?

We need a drink. And nothing could be more refreshing than a cold glass of horchata. The milk-like base, with a touch (or a tad more) of sugar, isn't only rejuvenating on a hot summer day, it is cooling from the inside, making it a perfect pairing with a spicy Mexican meal.

Here are eight ways with horchata that you're going to want to get to know this summer.

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