Ponche is a traditional Mexican hot fruit punch drink that is commonly served around Christmas time. It is made from a variety of different fruits, spices, and sometimes alcohol. The main ingredients in ponche include citrus fruits like oranges and lime, dried fruits like raisins or prunes, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, tejocotes (a type of Mexican hawthorn fruit), guavas, apples, pears, plantains, and often rum or tequila.
The base of ponche is fruit juice. The most common fruits used are citrus fruits like oranges, mandarins, grapefruits, and limes. These fruits provide the tangy, refreshing citrus flavor that is quintessential to ponche. The juice is extracted by squeezing the fruits by hand or using a citrus juicer. Other fruits like apples, guavas, pears, and plantains may also be used to add additional flavors and natural sweetness.
Dried fruits are also commonly added to ponche. Some examples are raisins, prunes, dried apples, and tejocotes. Tejocotes are a small Mexican hawthorn fruit that resemble crabapples. They add a mild sweet-tart flavor to the ponche. The dried fruits plump up in the hot liquid and impart a concentrated fruity flavor.
Common Ponche Fruits
- Dried apples
Sugar is added to ponche to sweeten the tangy fruit juices. Traditional ponche recipes call for piloncillo, which is unrefined cane sugar that comes in cone shapes. Piloncillo has a deeper, more molasses-like flavor compared to regular white sugar. The cones are dissolved in the hot fruit mixture to sweeten and thicken the ponche.
Other types of sugar like brown sugar, raw sugar or white sugar can also be used. The amount added depends on the sweetness of the fruits, but generally around 1 cup of sugar is added for every 3-4 cups of juice.
Warm spices are essential for ponche’s distinctive festive flavor. The most common spices added are:
- Cinnamon – Provides a sweet, aromatic flavor
- Cloves – Adds a strong, spicy flavor
- Star anise – Has a licorice-like flavor
- Allspice – Imparts subtle spice notes
- Nutmeg – Adds a warm, nutty aroma
- Vanilla – Enhances the sweetness
The spices are tied in a cheesecloth or mesh bag and simmered in the ponche to infuse their flavors. This can be removed before serving. Ground spices may also be directly added to the ponche.
Water is used as the base liquid for ponche. The amount of water depends on how concentrated you want the punch to be. Generally 4-6 cups of water is used for every 3-4 cups of fruit juice. More water makes a lighter, more refreshing ponche, while less water makes a stronger, fruitier punch.
Some ponche recipes call for black tea or fruit-flavored teas to add another layer of flavor. The tannins in black tea combine with the citrus juices to give ponche added complexity. Fruity herbal teas like hibiscus or jamaica tea enhance the fruit flavors. The tea bags can be directly steeped in the hot ponche liquid to infuse.
For adults, rum or tequila are commonly added to ponche to give it an alcoholic kick. Clear or spiced rums work well to provide richness without overpowering the fruit. Tequila adds a subtle agave flavor. Brandy may also sometimes be used. The alcohol amplifies the warming spices and balances the sweetness of the punch. Ponche can be made with or without alcohol though, depending on personal preference.
Some ponche recipes incorporate dairy products like evaporated or condensed milk, cream, or coconut milk. The creamy dairy smoothes out the acidity of the citrus juices and gives ponche a lush, velvety texture. Condensed milk is the most traditional dairy addition. Just a small amount is enough to provide a hint of creaminess without making the drink too heavy.
Possible Dairy Additions
- Evaporated milk
- Condensed milk
- Heavy cream
- Coconut milk
How to Make Ponche
Here is a step-by-step overview of how to make traditional ponche:
- Wash, peel and juice the citrus fruits. Oranges, limes, grapefruits work well. Use about 3-4 cups juice.
- Combine citrus juices, water, piloncillo sugar and spices in a large pot. Use 4-6 cups water, 1 cup sugar, and spices tied in a bag.
- Add dried fruits like raisins, prunes, tejocotes. Let soak to rehydrate.
- Simmer ponche for 15-20 minutes to infuse flavors and dissolve sugar.
- Add fresh fruits like apples, pears, guava. Cook 5 minutes more.
- Optional: add tea, alcohol, dairy like rum, condensed milk.
- Remove spice bag. Ladle ponche into cups to serve.
- Garnish with extra fruit slices, cinnamon sticks.
The full punch can be made 1-2 days ahead. Reheat gently to serve. Ponche is traditionally served warm but can be enjoyed cold as well.
Ponche is highly customizable depending on which fruits and flavors you want to use. Here are some ponche variations:
- Pineapple juice
- Coconut milk
- Cranberry juice
Spiced Apple Cider Ponche
- Apple cider
- Cinnamon sticks
- Star anise
Adult Eggnog Ponche
Feel free to mix and match different juice, fruit, spice, tea and alcohol combinations to create your own unique ponche recipe.
Ponche can be garnished in many festive ways before serving:
- Fresh fruit slices like oranges, limes, apples
- Whole spices like cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves
- Herbs like mint leaves
- Whipped cream
- Sprinkles of ground cinnamon or nutmeg
Ponche can be served in:
- Punch bowls
- Individual mugs or cups
Enjoy ponche with:
- Fruit cake or panettone
- Spiced cookies like Mexican wedding cookies
- Sweet breads like conchas
- Buñuelos fritters
The sweet, warming ponche drink pairs perfectly with traditional Christmas and holiday baked goods and snacks.
Short Term Storage
Leftover ponche can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days in a sealed container. It may thicken up upon chilling.
Long Term Storage
Ponche base (without alcohol) can be frozen for longer term storage. It will keep for 2-3 months in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating to serve.
To reheat ponche, gently warm on the stovetop or in the microwave until hot. Add more water or juice if it has thickened too much. Adjust sweetness and spices as needed before serving.
The nutrition of ponche can vary based on the ingredients used, but generally it is high in:
- Vitamin C – From citrus fruits and juices
- Fiber – From fresh and dried fruits
- Antioxidants – From spices and fruits
- Potassium – Especially from oranges and bananas
- Sugar – From added sugar and natural sugars in fruits
Overall, ponche provides a good boost of nutrients from all the fresh fruit. The sugar and alcohol content should be enjoyed in moderation.
Ponche has its origins in Mexico but has become popular in Latin America and the Caribbean as well. It has long been served for Las Posadas, Christmas, New Year’s, and Three King’s Day celebrations. The drink brings together seasonal winter fruits and warm spices for a comforting winter punch.
There are many cultural traditions around ponche. It is often served from a large punch bowl with ladles to signify community and sharing. In some places, a baby Jesus figurine is placed in the bowl and the person who finds it receives good luck for the new year.
Ponche is culturally significant for the following reasons:
- It is a traditional drink for holiday festivities in Mexico and Latin America
- The ingredients represent the fruits and spices available in winter
- Sharing ponche from a bowl symbolizes community and togetherness
- It brings family and friends together during the holiday season
- Passing down ponche recipes and traditions keeps cultural heritage alive
For many, enjoying a cup of ponche is synonymous with celebrating Christmas in Latin culture. It evokes images of family gatherings, posadas, nights around the fire, and holiday meals.
Ponche is a beloved Latin American holiday punch made from citrus juices, dried fruits, sugarcane, and aromatic spices. Its origins trace back to Mexico but it has become popular across Latin cultures. Traditional ponche is served warm in communal bowls and paired with holiday baked goods. It can also be customized with many different juice, fruit, alcohol and spice combinations. Sipping ponche is a cherished way to celebrate the holidays, bring loved ones together, and keep traditions alive.