Is horchata a healthy drink?

Horchata is a popular drink originally from Spain and Latin America that is now enjoyed all over the world. It’s made from ground nuts, grains, and seeds like rice, almonds, or sesame seeds, mixed with water and sweetened with sugar. Some versions also include dairy like milk or condensed milk. Horchata has a creamy, refreshing taste and texture somewhat similar to rice pudding. But is this tasty drink actually good for you? Here’s a deep dive into the nutritional profile and health effects of horchata.

What is Horchata Made Of?

There are many variations of horchata, but some of the most common ingredients are:

  • Rice: Long-grain white rice is most often used. The rice is soaked and then ground to a powder.
  • Almonds, sesame seeds, tiger nuts, or coconut: Used whole, ground into flour, or made into milk.
  • Sugar: Granulated white sugar, or sometimes honey or agave nectar.
  • Cinnamon: Ground cinnamon adds flavor.
  • Vanilla: Vanilla extract enhances flavor.
  • Milk: Evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, or regular milk may be added.
  • Water: The liquid component that the other ingredients are soaked and blended in.

The specific combination of ingredients depends on the region or recipe. Rice is almost always the base, complemented by nuts, seeds, spices, sweeteners, and dairy products.

Nutrition Profile of Horchata

The exact nutrition facts for horchata can vary based on the recipe, but here is an overview of the basic nutrients found in a typical serving:

Calories and Macronutrients

– Calories: 154 calories per 8 oz serving
– Protein: 2 grams
– Fat: 2 grams
– Carbs: 33 grams
– Sugar: 21 grams

Horchata is high in carbohydrates and sugar, mostly coming from the rice and added sweeteners like sugar or condensed milk. It’s relatively low in protein and fat. The small amount of fat and protein comes from ingredients like milk, nuts, and seeds.

Vitamins and Minerals

– Vitamin C: 1% DV
– Calcium: 10% DV
– Iron: 3% DV
– Potassium: 2% DV

Horchata provides small amounts of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, calcium, iron, and potassium. This comes mainly from the nuts, seeds, rice, and dairy used in the drink. However, the quantities are relatively low compared to your total daily needs.

Other Compounds

– Antioxidants: from nuts and seeds
– Phytochemicals: from rice, nuts, seeds
– Probiotics: from fermented rice or nuts

Some versions of horchata feature ingredients like nuts, seeds, and fermented rices that provide beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants, phytochemicals, and probiotics. However, these are generally present in small concentrations.

Overall, while horchata does contain some nutrients, its macro and micronutrient profile is relatively unremarkable compared to other beverages. Its high sugar content is probably its most notable nutritional characteristic.

Horchata Benefits

Despite its heavy sugar content, horchata does have some potential health benefits when consumed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet:


Made mostly of water, horchata can help with fluid intake and hydration, especially in hot climates. The water content offsets some of the dehydrating effects of the sugar.


Some recipes use fermented rice or nuts, providing probiotics that support digestive and immune health. However, most commercial horchata drinks don’t contain fermented ingredients.


Nuts, seeds, and rice bran contain polyphenols and other antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body when consumed regularly.

Rice Protein and Nutrients

The use of rice and nuts/seeds provides a small amount of plant-based protein, amino acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals like magnesium, iron, and B vitamins.

Dairy Calcium

Versions made with milk provide calcium and possibly vitamin D if fortified, contributing to bone health.

Low Glycemic Index

Despite the high sugar content, horchata has a relatively low glycemic index around 56 compared to soda at 63. This means it may cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar.


The protein, fat, and fiber in ingredients like nuts, seeds, and rice can promote feelings of fullness and help control appetite compared to beverages with no nutrients.

Overall the potential benefits center around hydration, probiotics, antioxidant content, and satiety. However, these benefits would depend on the specific recipe, serving size, and frequency of intake.

Horchata Drawbacks

Horchata does come with some potential downsides:

High in Sugar

The main concern with horchata is its very high sugar content, accounting for over half its calories. Consuming too much added sugar can contribute to weight gain, blood sugar spikes, dental issues, and an increased risk of heart disease.

High in Calories and Carbs

Each 8 oz serving packs over 150 calories and 33 grams of carbs, primarily from the sugar. This can quickly add up in calories and carbs over multiple servings.

Limited Other Nutrients

Aside from calories and sugar, horchata is fairly low in beneficial protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other plant compounds compared to fruit smoothies, milk, or vegetable drinks.

Allergies and Intolerances

Horchata commonly contains ingredients like nuts, dairy, gluten, and soy that can trigger allergies or intolerances for some people. Always check the specific ingredients.

Additives in Flavored Versions

Flavored, bottled, or pre-made horchata products sometimes contain artificial flavors, colors, emulsifiers, and preservatives that people may wish to avoid.

The main drawbacks revolve around horchata’s heavy sugar and calorie content, while lacking other redeeming nutrients. People with diabetes or weight concerns should be particularly cautious with intake.

Is Horchata Healthier Than Soda?

Horchata is often touted as a healthier alternative to soda, but is this really true? Here’s how it compares:

Sugar and Calories

Horchata contains 21 grams of sugar and 154 calories per 8 oz serving. By comparison, cola has 27 grams of sugar and 97 calories per 8 oz. So horchata has slightly less sugar and more calories.

Other Nutrients

Horchata provides more nutritional value with 2 grams protein, probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Soda has essentially no nutrients.

Artificial Ingredients

Homemade horchata won’t have any artificial additives, while soda contains artificial colors, flavors, etc. Flavored bottled horchata may have some additives.


With a pH of 6-7, horchata is less acidic than soda which has a pH around 3. The acidity of soda harms tooth enamel.

Glycemic Index

Horchata has a lower glycemic index of 56 compared to soda at 63. So it impacts blood sugar slightly less.

Caffeine Content

Horchata contains no caffeine, while soda packs 35mg per 8oz serving on average. The caffeine in soda provides a quick energy boost but can disrupt sleep cycles.

Overall, while horchata is high in sugar and calories, it does edge out soda in some regards like having more nutrients, less acidity, a lower glycemic index, and no caffeine. But the differences aren’t enormous. Neither beverage should be consumed in excess.

Is Horchata Safe for Diabetics?

For people with diabetes, horchata’s high carb and sugar content is concerning. Here’s a breakdown of whether and how diabetics can drink horchata:

– Blood Sugar Spike – Horchata’s high glycemic load can rapidly elevate blood glucose. Spreading intake over time and balancing with protein/fat helps mitigate spikes.

– Frequency and Serving Size – Occasionally drinking small 4-6oz servings of horchata is less likely to dramatically impact blood sugar than large or frequent amounts. Moderation is key.

– Ingredient Awareness – Homemade horchata gives more control over ingredients. Avoiding added sugars and balancing carbs with fiber, fat, and protein helps manage blood sugar response.

– Monitor Glucose – Test blood sugar before and 2 hours after consuming horchata to understand your body’s response and adjust intake accordingly.

– Alternative Options – Consider alternative lower-sugar drinks more often like unsweetened nut milk, sparkling water with lime, or cold brew tea.

– Ask Your Doctor – Check with your physician about how horchata fits into your diet and get personalized advice for managing diabetes.

In moderation along with a healthy diet and blood sugar monitoring, an occasional small serving of horchata may be tolerable for diabetics. But they should be cautious due to its heavy sugar and carb content.

Does Horchata Have Lactose?

It depends on the recipe. Traditional versions of horchata are typically dairy-free, getting creamy texture instead from rice, nuts, and seeds. However, some recipes do add types of milk, and these would contain lactose:

– Evaporated Milk – Contains 6.5 grams lactose per half cup. Adds sweetness and richness.

– Condensed Milk – Around 10 grams lactose per half cup depending on brand. Adds thick creamy texture.

– Whole Milk – Contains 12 grams lactose per 1 cup of milk. Provides dairy flavor.

– Almond Milk – Most almond milks are lactose-free, but check labels to be safe. Adds nutty taste.

– Coconut Milk – Naturally lactose-free. Contributes coconut flavor.

So people avoiding lactose should opt for traditional horchata recipes made without dairy milk or check labels on commercial versions for milk ingredients. Many dairy-free versions can provide creamy texture and flavor instead with rice, nuts, seeds, and non-dairy milks like almond or coconut.

Horchata Nutrition Facts

Nutrition facts for horchata can vary based on ingredients, but here are the amounts for 1 cup (8oz) of a typical recipe:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 154
Fat 2 g
Sodium 91 mg
Potassium 121 mg
Carbohydrates 33 g
Sugar 21 g
Protein 2 g

Key takeaways are the high carbohydrate and sugar content, providing 154 calories per serving. There are minimal other nutrients aside from small amounts of potassium and protein. Always check nutrition labels of store-bought brands, as they may differ.

Ways to Make Horchata Healthier

While traditional horchata is high in sugar, there are some simple ways to modify it to be healthier:

– Use less sugar or alternative sweeteners like honey, agave, stevia, etc. The less added sugar, the lower the carb/calorie count.

– Include nuts, seeds, and higher protein grains like oats or quinoa for more protein, fiber, and nutrients.

– Use milk alternatives like almond or coconut milk instead of condensed or evaporated dairy milk.

– Try fermented rice for added probiotics. Just be sure to monitor fermentation carefully.

– Add spices like cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, and nutmeg for flavor rather than sugar.

– Serve over ice for a refreshing chilled texture without needing as much sugar to sweeten or thicken.

– Garnish with fresh fruit like berries, banana, mango, or pineapple for extra fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.

– Water down stronger horchata with ice cubes, water, or sparkling water to dilute the sugar concentration.

With some simple modifications like reducing added sugar, using healthier ingredients, and diluting stronger versions, horchata can be an occasional moderately healthy treat.

How to Make Healthy Horchata

Try this recipe for a healthier homemade horchata that’s lower in sugar:


– 1 cup white long grain rice
– 1/2 cup raw almonds
– 1 stick cinnamon, or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– Pinch of salt
– 2-3 tbsp honey or agave nectar, to taste
– 4 cups water, divided
– Ice cubes
– Fresh raspberries, lime wedges, and mint leaves for garnish


1. In a large bowl, soak rice and almonds in 2 cups water overnight.
2. Drain rice and almonds, reserving soaking water.
3. Add soaked rice, almonds, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and remaining 2 cups fresh water to blender. Blend until smooth.
4. Pass mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher, pressing solids to extract liquid.
5. Add honey or agave nectar to taste.
6. Refrigerate horchata base until very cold, at least 2 hours.
7. To serve, fill glasses with ice cubes and pour chilled horchata over top. Garnish with fresh raspberries, lime wedge, and mint.

This recipe cuts the typical sugar content by more than half by using a moderate amount of liquid sweetener. The almonds provide healthy fats, protein, and nutrients. It makes a light, refreshing beverage that still has the classic horchata taste. Adjust sweetener to your liking, adding more for a sweeter drink or less for an unsweetened version.


Here are some precautions to keep in mind with horchata:

– Allergies – avoid ingredients like nuts, dairy, gluten if allergic or intolerant

– Diabetes – moderate intake due to high sugar content

– Acrylamide – overheated rice may contain acrylamide, a potential carcinogen

– Food poisoning – use proper food safety and hygiene if making homemade horchata with raw rice and nuts

– Hypertension – limit intake due to sodium content in some recipes

– Bloating – some people experience bloating from ingredients like nuts or lactose

– Weight gain – limit intake due to high calorie and sugar content

Overall, horchata is likely fine in moderation as part of a healthy diet. But those with specific medical conditions or diet restrictions should take special precautions. Be aware of ingredients, portion size, and frequency to mitigate potential downsides.


Horchata does provide some nutrition from ingredients like nuts, seeds, and rice but is very high in sugar and calories. The main benefits come from hydration, probiotics if fermented, milk calcium, and antioxidants from nuts and seeds. However, its heavy sugar content can contribute to weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and dental issues when consumed in excess. Traditional horchata is dairy-free but some recipes add milk. People with diabetes, lactose intolerance, or hypertension should be particularly cautious with intake. While horchata has slightly less sugar and acidity than soda, it isn’t significantly healthier overall. Enjoy horchata occasionally in moderation but limit intake for the best health outcomes. Prepare homemade versions with less added sugar or dilute stronger horchata with ice, water, or sparkling water for a lighter refreshing treat.

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