Arroz con dulce is a popular Latin American dessert made by cooking rice with sweetened milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. It is a staple at holiday gatherings and celebrations in many Latin cultures. The name literally translates to “rice with sweet”.
The main ingredients in arroz con dulce are:
- Rice – Typically short grain white rice is used, such as Arborio rice.
- Milk – Whole milk or evaporated milk sweetened with sugar.
- Raisins or currants
Other ingredients like coconut milk, condensed milk, or cream may also be used. The type of milk and extra ingredients can vary slightly based on the region or family recipe.
To make arroz con dulce, the rice is first cooked in water or broth until almost done. In a separate pot, the milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla are combined and heated. Once the rice is close to tender, the flavored sweetened milk mixture is added and everything is cooked together until thickened and creamy. Raisins or currants are stirred in towards the end.
The ideal texture is a thick, rich porridge or pudding-like consistency. Allowing the rice to cook further in the sweetened milk allows it to absorb more flavor and thicken the dish. The flavor profile is creamy and sweet, with warmth from the cinnamon.
There are many variations on the traditional arroz con dulce recipe:
- Coconut milk – For a tropical flair, coconut milk is substituted for regular milk.
- Condensed milk – Adds extra richness and sweetness.
- Evaporated milk – Creates a thicker, creamier texture.
- Spices – Extra spices like nutmeg, cloves, or allspice may be added.
- Vanilla extract – Can use vanilla bean seeds or extract for flavoring.
- Citrus zest – Orange or lemon zest brighten it up.
- Nuts – Chopped nuts like almonds or walnuts add crunch.
- Fruit – Dried fruits like mangos or pineapple complement it.
- Liqueur – Splash of rum or brandy for adults.
The basic ingredients remain rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. But the specific types or amounts can vary. Families put their own spin on the classic dessert with available ingredients.
Arroz con dulce is commonly served:
- Warm or chilled
- On its own or with a dollop of whipped cream
- With a dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg on top
- With extra milk, cream, or condensed milk drizzled over
- With chopped nuts sprinkled on top
- With tropical fruits like mango, guava, or pineapple on the side
- With a pinch of sea salt to offset the sweetness
- With a splash of rum for adults
It can be served warm straight out of the pot or chilled overnight in the fridge which allows the flavors to further meld together. The creamy, smooth texture makes it perfect for spooning into bowls or parfait glasses. A dusting of cinnamon or splash of cream on top completes the presentation.
Arroz con dulce holds a special place in Latin cuisine and culture. It is most popular in:
- Puerto Rico
- Dominican Republic
- Costa Rica
But found in other Latin countries as well. Rice pudding exists in various cultures, but arroz con dulce is a beloved Latin American interpretation.
It is considered a cherished comfort food and often served during holidays and celebrations:
- Family gatherings
Making and enjoying arroz con dulce is a tradition passed down through generations. The recipe varies family to family with each one boasting theirs is the best.
One serving of arroz con dulce contains approximately:
As a rice pudding, arroz con dulce is high in carbohydrates from the rice and sugar. It also provides some protein and nutrients from the milk and rice. The high sugar content means it should be enjoyed in moderation, especially by those managing diabetes. But it can be a wholesome comfort food when portion sizes are controlled.
The ingredients in arroz con dulce are relatively inexpensive. Here is an estimate cost breakdown for a 9×13 pan size batch serving 12 people:
|Rice (2 cups dry)
|Milk (6 cups)
|Sugar (1 cup)
|Cinnamon (1 tsp)
|Vanilla (1 tsp)
|Raisins (1/2 cup)
The total cost to make a pan of arroz con dulce serving 12 is estimated around $4. The cost per serving is only $0.33 making it very budget friendly. Because it uses pantry staples like rice, milk, and sugar, it is an affordable dessert option for families.
Arroz con dulce has its origins in Latin America with connections to European rice puddings. Specific histories include:
- Spain introduced rice cultivation to Latin America in the 15th-16th centuries as Spanish colonized the region.
- Spanish, Portuguese, and African influences shaped Latin American cuisine, including desserts.
- Rice puddings are found in Spanish, Portuguese, and British cuisine, which were likely adapted in Latin America.
- Cinnamon and vanilla were imported from Asia and became widely used Latin desserts.
- Using local ingredients like rice and coconut combined old and new world traditions.
The inexpensive treat became popular among both wealthy families and slaves/servants in Latin America over the centuries. It remains a staple today because of the simple, affordable ingredients.
Puerto Rican Arroz Con Dulce
Puerto Rico is particularly well known for arroz con dulce in its cuisine and culture:
- Rice has been grown in Puerto Rico since the late 1800s.
- Spanish colonizers introduced sugar cane cultivation to Puerto Rico in the 1500s.
- Coconut milk is commonly used in Puerto Rican arroz con dulce.
- Cinnamon and vanilla grow well in Puerto Rico’s tropical climate, flavoring many desserts.
- It is served at holidays, birthdays, parties, and large family meals.
Puerto Rican arroz con dulce often has a distinct texture and flavor profile from the coconut milk and tropical ingredients.
Dominican Arroz Con Dulce
The Dominican Republic also has a beloved version of the dish:
- Evaporated milk is traditionally used instead of regular milk in Dominican arroz con dulce.
- Canela (Ceylon cinnamon) is the favored cinnamon for added depth of flavor.
- Raisins, cinnamon sticks, and lime zest are common ingredients.
- It has a signature orange hue from the annatto seed (achiote).
- Served warm or chilled, often with a side of Dominican casabe (yuca bread).
Dominicans also associate arroz con dulce with holiday meals and family recipes passed down through generations.
Panamanian Arroz Con Dulce
In Panama, arroz con dulce has distinctive additions:
- Panamanian arroz con dulce uses precooked rice to create a thicker texture.
- Condensed milk is typically used for extra richness.
- Spices like ginger, nutmeg, and star anise add depth of flavor.
- Rum or brandy is sometimes splashed in the adults’ portions.
- Served warm or chilled, garnished with fruits and nuts.
This variation highlights Panama’s connection to Spain and the spice trade, with some adult flair added in!
Popularity and Variations Around the World
While arroz con dulce is most iconic in Latin Caribbean cultures, similar rice puddings are found globally:
- Kheer – Rice pudding from India and Pakistan flavored with saffron, cardamom, pistachios, and other spices.
- Muhallabia – Middle Eastern milk pudding thickened with rice flour and rose water.
- Risalamande – Traditional Danish rice pudding made with vanilla, cream, and almonds.
- Riz au lait – French rice pudding often incorporating rum and raisins.
- Risalamande – Sweet rice porridge served in Hungary.
- Arroz Doce – Portuguese rice pudding flavored with lemon and cinnamon.
The combination of rice and milk creates a universally loved soothing, sweet treat. But arroz con dulce stands out for its Latin American flavors and cultural significance.
Arroz con dulce is a quintessential Latin American comfort food dessert. The main ingredients of rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla are staple pantry items. But they combine to create a uniquely flavored creamy pudding-like dish. It is a classic part of holiday meals and celebrations in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, and more. Each region adds its own twist reflecting local history and ingredients. No matter the variation, arroz con dulce is a cherished food tradition passed down through generations and connecting people to their roots. With its tasty simplicity and cultural importance, it promises to remain a signature Latin dessert for decades to come.