Gluten Free

Is Horchata Dairy Free?

How satisfying could it be to create that perfect beverage that can complement an array of meals? No traditional drink pairs so well with flavors like horchata. I pair it with almost anything, from pancit to jerk chicken; the satisfaction is always the same. While horchata is gluten free, is horchata dairy-free?

Lactose intolerance is often time caused by inherited genes that cause your body to produce less lactase enzyme (essential to break down lactose) as you advance in age. Sometimes, the symptoms may begin while you’re a teen or during your adult years. In some other cases, it could be caused by injury or infection that makes your small intestine stop producing lactase.

In this article, we will be providing you with everything you need to know about horchata’s dairy-free status, health benefits, risks from drinking uncooked rice, and ways you could become more lactose tolerant over time.

Horchata, what is it?

Horchata was locally consumed by the Moors pre-8th century and was later introduced to the Iberiann peninsula between the 8th and 13th centuries. However, its documented roots are traced to a small town Alboraya in Valencia, Spain. Alboraya is renowned for being the largest chufa (tiger nuts) producer in the world.

In our present day, there are lots of variations of this horchata as each region customizes these drinks to have a taste of their locally loved grains and tastes. The horchata consumed in Mexico (horchata de arroz) makes use of rice, vanilla, and cinnamon as opposed to water and tiger nuts mostly consumed in Spain. Further down Puerto Rico, toasted ground sesame seeds are used instead of rice or tiger nuts–displaying the easy customizability of this beverage.

Horchata is commonly served with equal parts of granita in Spain and is usually not served over ice. However, in Latin America and amongst the locals who hawk horchata in Africa, it is usually served very chilled or over ice.

Horchata de chufa’s taste can be described as nutty and sweet with a velvety mouthfeel and a creamy texture. While the Mexican variant (de arroz) boasts a chalky mouthfeel, is sweet, and has a less creamy consistency.

Personally, horchata pairs well with lumpia, fartons, rums, and even tequilas. The list is endless.

What’s In Horchata Drink?

  • Long-grain white rice: While you could use different kinds of rice, long-grain rice creates a characteristic creamy texture and provides a mild flavor base for other ingredients.
  • Cinnamon sticks: What is a horchata drink without that note of cinnamon? I usually buy it in bulk bins to get it cheaper.
  • Tigernuts and Almonds: Horchata made with tiger nuts and almonds has that earthy flavor.
  • Vanilla: Vanilla adds a unique flavor to horchata.
  • Water: Used to soak the rice, creating the base for the drink.
  • Sweetener: Basically, sugar is used in most cases. However, stevia and other forms of sweeteners may be used, depending on who is making the drink.

Is Horchata Good For You?

This drink has been popular for centuries, but why is that? Horchata is a simple, healthy drink that tastes very delicious. Traditional horchata doesn’t contain any form of chemical additive.

Horchata is rich in antioxidants, which are great for your hair and skin and reduce damage caused by free radicals in the body. It is low in fat and packed with vitamins C and E. It also boasts minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. The majority of its recipes are gluten- and dairy-free, making it easy on the stomach.

Is Horchata Dairy Free?

Traditional horchata isn’t meant to have dairy as it is made with tiger nuts, toasted sesame, melon, or rice with a common addition of cinnamon and vanilla. However, most commercial horchata sold at chains and restaurants are not dairy-free as they add milk to achieve a creamier texture, making it not safe for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

In my early twenties, I had to eschew dairy as the affliction of lactose intolerance suddenly presented itself, and ever since, I have become cautious of taking dairy products. However, I learned a technique that makes it easy for me to tolerate dairy, I’ll be sharing that soon, but before I learned that, I experienced hell trying horchata and some desserts at some restaurants and vendors.

From my experience, I have come to learn that dairy is commonly added to horchata de arroz ( the Mexican rice milk) and horchata de coco (this version is made with coconut), I have seldom experienced dairy intolerance symptoms after having horchata de chufa, and almost zero dairy with the rest.

However, this may not be much of a problem if you have medium to low lactose intolerance, as it may take up to 12 grams of lactose (equivalent to a cup of milk) to experience symptoms. When you drink horchata with foods high in fats, fiber, and protein, it slows down how fast lactase gets into your intestine, which would make you not experience lactose intolerance symptoms. Also, you could take lactase tablets or drops while you consume dairy and infuse horchata to aid you in breaking down the lactose.

Futher, for the version made with rice (horchata de arroz), there is a concern about bacillus cereus which is a pathogen commonly found on uncooked rice. These bacteria can be eliminated if the rice is sterilized before it is soaked, or if boiling water is poured over the rice before or after the soaking process. Most vendors would not know about this and therefore make you vulnerable to gastrointestinal illness with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea which most people may confuse for dairy intolerance.

It is necessary to enquire before you purchase, to keep you on the safer side. Unfortunately, unlike other foods or condiments that could be prepared on the go, horchata has to be soaked overnight, and while you can boil the gains and still make horchata on the go, you can’t compare the resulting taste with the original horchata recipe.

Does horchata have dairy? Final Thoughts

Horchata may or may not have dairy depending on the restaurant or vendor offering the beverage. It is always important to ask if there is added milk before you buy, or you can call ahead of time to make a reservation, this way, you can have a dairy-free experience.

Personally, horchata is best made at home with your kids, partner, or by yourself. It is easy to put together and its taste is one to die for if you ask me, especially the horchata de chufa and horchata de coco.


Is horchata suitable for a paleo diet?

As we all know, the Paleo diet is based on exclusively consuming foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. These diets consist of fish, fruits, nuts, veggies, lean meats, and seeds. Foods like legumes, grains, refined sugar, dairy, and processed foods are excluded from a paleo diet.

Horchata contains grains like rice and processed sugar in the form of sweeteners and sometimes dairy, which makes it not suitable for a paleo diet.

Is Horchata De Ajonjolí Dairy Free?

Horchata de Ajonjoli is derived from pouring boiling water over toasted sesame seeds and soaking them for a full day, then adding vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes rum and coconut milk. The traditional horchata de Ajomjoli commonly found in Puerto Rico and Venezuela is usually dairy-free. However, you should exercise caution, as some recipes include evaporated milk.

Is Horchata De Melón Dairy Free?

Horchata de melon is dairy-free, as it is traditionally made with melon seeds with no milk included.

Is Horchata De Chufa Dairy Free?

Traditional Horchata de Chufa is dairy-free as it is derived from soaked ground tiger nuts and other non-dairy ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, water, and sugar. It is a great source of protein and is usually enjoyed ice-cold and often served along with fartons, but I prefer it with some sesame chicken with a Lebanese vermicelli side.

Does Horchata Have Alcohol?

A traditional horchata recipe is a non-alcoholic drink. However, some recipes may include Caribbean rum to enrich the flavor, or it can also be a way of incorporating the Caribbean cultural element.

Is horchata diabetic-friendly?

Horchata is a generally healthy drink; it has a moderate to high glycemic index of 65 to 75 per 8-ounce serving, making it not diabetic-friendly. With portion control and ingredients suggested by your doctor, a diabetic could, however, enjoy some horchata.

Is horchata fattening?

There are lots of horchata recipes available. To determine if it is fattening, we need to analyze it based on the ingredients used. Horchata made with almonds usually contains lots of calories. On average, a serving of horchata in restaurants could supply 123 calories, according to the USDA.

Can I make horchata with brown rice?

While horchata is predominantly made with white rice, it can also be made with brown rice. Horchata made with brown rice tastes just as lovely and can be sweetened to taste.

Can I make horchata without soaking the rice overnight?

The wait time for horchata is always a put-off for anyone looking to satisfy their horchata cravings. However, horchata can be made without soaking the rice overnight. All you need to do is cook the rice and water for five minutes, then blend with milk, sieve, and enjoy!

Cortiso Davids

My culinary adventure began at an early age when I would stand on a chair to help my mom stir pancake batter. Over the years, I've honed my skills and knowledge, drawing inspiration from family recipes, celebrated chefs, and the vibrant food cultures that make our world so diverse and fascinating.

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