Does horchata contain dairy?

Horchata is a popular drink that originated in Spain and Latin America. It’s made from ground grains, nuts, rice, or seeds that are blended with water and sweetened. Horchata is creamy and refreshing, making it a delicious summertime beverage.

But does horchata actually contain dairy? The short answer is: it depends. Traditional horchata recipes don’t include dairy products like milk or cream. However, some modern versions of horchata are made with dairy additions like evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, or cream. So whether or not horchata contains dairy depends on the specific recipe used.

Traditional Horchata Recipe

Let’s start by looking at the traditional way horchata is made without dairy products:

  • The main ingredient is rice, typically long-grain white rice.
  • The rice is soaked overnight in water.
  • The rice and soaking water are then blended, along with sugar and cinnamon.
  • This produces a milky liquid with a creamy texture, even though no dairy is used.
  • The horchata is then strained before serving to remove any remaining rice solids.
  • Some recipes also include toasted nuts like almonds or peanuts, coconut milk, melon seeds, barley, or tiger nuts (chufa).
  • But in all cases, the traditional version does not use milk, cream, or other dairy products.

So real horchata is naturally creamy and refreshing. The rice releases its starches into the water, creating a smooth texture and mouthfeel without needing milk or cream. This gives it a light and clean flavor perfect for hot summer days.

Modern Dairy-Based Horchata

While traditional horchata is dairy-free, some modern recipes do add milk products like:

  • Evaporated milk: Adding evaporated milk gives horchata a richer, creamier texture.
  • Sweetened condensed milk: This makes horchata extra thick, sweet, and decadent.
  • Whole milk or cream: For an ultra-indulgent creamy horchata.

Condensed and evaporated milk have had the water content reduced or removed. So they add rich dairy flavor without thinning out the drink. The sugars and proteins in these milk products helps stabilize the emulsion, creating a smooth, creamy beverage.

Whole milk or cream also provide thickness, texture, and creamy dairy notes. So while dairy isn’t needed to make horchata, it can make the drink taste more indulgent.

Does Powdered Horchata Contain Dairy?

These days you can also find powdered horchata mixes. These are designed to be quick and easy to prepare at home – just add water or milk and stir. But do the powdered horchata mixes contain dairy?

Again it depends on the brand:

  • Some powders are dairy-free and made only from rice flour, sugar, and spices.
  • Other mixes do contain dried milk products like nonfat dry milk powder or whey protein concentrate.
  • Always check the ingredient list to see if the powdered horchata includes milk derivatives.

Powders that include dairy ingredients will be creamier and richer when mixed with water. But vegan horchata mixes use other thickeners like gums or starches to create the creamy texture without milk.

Is Horchata Lactose Free?

Whether or not horchata contains lactose again depends on the recipe.

Traditional horchata made without dairy is completely lactose free. Lactose is the natural sugar found in mammalian milk. Rice, nuts, seeds, and water don’t contain any lactose at all.

But horchata made with cow’s milk is not lactose free. Whole milk contains around 5% lactose. This means a cup of dairy horchata would have a few grams of lactose from the added milk or cream.

Condensed and evaporated milk are lower in lactose since much of the sugar is converted to glucose and galactose during processing. But they still contain some lactose that could cause issues for people with lactose intolerance.

Most horchata powder mixes are not lactose free either, even if they don’t require milk to be added. The dairy-based powders include ingredients like nonfat dry milk, buttermilk powder, or whey that contain lactose.

So the only way to guarantee lactose free horchata is to make it from scratch without dairy products or use a plant-based powdered mix specifically labelled as vegan and lactose free.

Horchata Variations Around the World

While horchata originated in Spain, today it’s popular in many regions around the world. Each country has its own unique take on horchata using local ingredients and traditions.


In Spain, horchata is typically made from chufa (tiger nuts). The nuts are soaked in water to extract the starch and create a creamy emulsion. Spanish horchata is served ice-cold as a refreshing summertime drink.


Mexican horchata relies on long-grain white rice as the main starch source. Cinnamon, vanilla, and sometimes milk or cream are also added. Horchata agua fresca is a popular drink in Mexican restaurants and taquerias.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican horchata uses a blend of rice, milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, and cinnamon. It has a rich creamy texture and is often flavored with rum extract.


Guatemalan (and Salvadoran) horchata is made from ground morro seeds. Morro is a type of oilseed native to Central America. The seeds give the drink a creamy nutty flavor.


In Peru, emoliente horchata is made with whole grains like barley, quinoa, or corn blended with nuts, herbs, and fruits. It’s believed to have medicinal qualities.


Philippine horchata uses glutinous rice, sugar, evaporated milk, and often coconut milk. It’s flavored with cinnamon and served over ice.

So while horchata is made from many different grains or nuts depending on the region, most versions don’t traditionally include dairy. Milk and cream are sometimes added to modern recipes, but aren’t needed to create the creamy texture.

Benefits of Horchata

Horchata has several health benefits that make it an appealing summertime drink:

  • Good source of nutrients – Depending on the ingredients, horchata can provide protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  • Probiotics – The fermentation process to make some horchata recipes creates natural probiotics for gut health.
  • Hydration – The water content helps replenish fluids and prevent dehydration.
  • Energy boost – The carbohydrates and sugars provide fast energy.
  • Gluten-free – Horchata is naturally gluten-free when made from rice, nuts, or seeds.
  • Dairy-free – Traditional recipes are dairy-free, making it suitable for vegans and the lactose intolerant.

Of course, exact nutrition will vary based on the ingredients used. But in general horchata is a healthy beverage choice any time of year.

How to Make Horchata at Home

It’s easy to whip up homemade horchata to enjoy on a hot day. Here is a simple recipe to try:


  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1⁄4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Ground cinnamon for garnish


  1. Rinse the rice in a strainer until the water runs clear. Soak in 2 cups of water for at least 4 hours.
  2. Drain the rice but reserve the soaking liquid. Transfer to a blender along with the remaining water, cinnamon stick, vanilla, sugar and salt.
  3. Blend on high speed for 2-3 minutes until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher.
  4. Refrigerate until well chilled. Serve over ice and garnish with cinnamon.

For a thicker, creamier horchata, you can blend in 1 14-oz can of coconut milk. Just be sure to refrigerate the horchata for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop.

Adjust the amount of sugar to taste – some people prefer it sweet while others like it less sweet. You can also experiment with additional flavorings like almond extract, lime juice, or even chocolate syrup.

Enjoy an ice cold glass of refreshing horchata on a hot summer day! It’s creamy, sweet, and delicious without a drop of dairy.

Where to Buy Horchata

If you don’t have time to make it from scratch, store-bought horchata is readily available:

  • Mexican markets – Find brands like Maya Horchata or Rico Horchata in the Latin American food section.
  • Hispanic grocery stores – Large chains like El Super often carry refrigerated horchata.
  • Convenience stores – Brands like Horchata Latina or Vero are mass produced and sold chilled.
  • Coffee shops – Many cafes sell horchata concentrate to add to milk or use in lattes.
  • Powdered mixes – Shelf-stable powder to reconstitute at home, found in the drink aisle.
  • Online – Numerous brands available on or direct from company websites.

Check the nutrition label when buying pre-made horchata. Some will contain dairy while others are plant-based. You can also find horchata coffee creamer near the refrigerated coffee additions.

Horchata FAQs

What does horchata taste like?

Horchata has a sweet, creamy, cinnamon flavor. It’s a little milky and rice-like but with definite notes of vanilla and cinnamon. The exact taste varies between recipes based on the ingredients used.

Is horchata good for you?

Yes, horchata can be a healthy drink choice when made from whole foods like rice, nuts, seeds, and fruits. It provides nutrients plus hydration. Just watch your sugar intake from flavored varieties.

Can you make horchata without rice?

Yes, there are many dairy-free “horchata” recipes made from almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, moringa seeds, tiger nuts, peanuts, or melon seeds instead of rice.

Is horchata gluten free?

Traditional horchata is naturally gluten-free when made from rice, nuts, or seeds. But read labels carefully if purchasing commercially made horchata, as some contain wheat or barley that are not gluten-free.

How long does horchata last?

Fresh homemade horchata will keep 3-5 days refrigerated. Store-bought shelf-stable varieties can last several months. Once opened, store horchata in the fridge and use within 5-7 days.


Horchata is a delicious and refreshing drink that comes in many delicious varieties around the world. While traditional homemade horchata doesn’t contain any dairy, some modern store-bought versions do include milk, cream, or milk powders.

To avoid dairy, purchase or make horchata from rice, nuts, seeds, or grains instead of using evaporated or condensed milk. Check ingredients carefully if you want to avoid lactose. But even dairy-based horchata can be enjoyed in moderation by those who don’t have an allergy or intolerance.

Whip up a batch of easy homemade horchata to beat the heat without the dairy. Or pick up a ready-to-drink horchata from the store for an instant cool treat. Just check the label and ingredients list to know if it’s vegan and lactose-free. However you enjoy it, horchata is the perfect refreshing drink for hot summer days!

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