Horchata and arroz con leche are two popular milk-based drinks in Latin American cuisine. They are often confused with each other as both contain rice and cinnamon. However, they are quite different in terms of ingredients, texture, taste and how they are consumed.
What is Horchata?
Horchata is a traditional Mexican and Spanish drink made from ground rice, almonds, cinnamon and sugar. The name ‘horchata’ comes from the Valencian word ‘orxata’ which means extracted juice or aguas frescas. It is a refreshing beverage that can be served cold or at room temperature.
The main ingredient in horchata is white rice which is soaked overnight and then ground with almonds, cinnamon and sugar. Some recipes also include vanilla, lime zest or milk. The ground rice mixture is then strained to remove any solids. The leftover liquid is the horchata drink. It has a milky appearance and consistency due to the starch released from the rice.
Horchata has a sweet taste due to the sugar added, with subtle nutty and cinnamon flavours. It is usually served chilled, sometimes over ice. The drink has a smooth and creamy texture but is still light and refreshing. Horchata is popular in the Northern regions of Mexico as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
What is Arroz Con Leche?
Arroz con leche literally translates to ‘rice with milk’ in Spanish. It is a traditional dessert pudding made from rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Unlike horchata, arroz con leche uses unground long grain white rice.
To make arroz con leche, rice is cooked in milk until the rice softens and the mixture thickens. Sugar, cinnamon and vanilla are added for sweetness and flavour. It has a thick, creamy, pudding-like texture from the starch in the rice. It is served warm or chilled, sometimes with extra cinnamon or fruit toppings.
Arroz con leche is popular dessert in many Latin countries including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina and more. It’s also commonly found in Spain where it originated. There are many variations using different types of milk, like coconut or almond, and adding various mix-ins.
While both drinks contain rice, cinnamon and milk, there are some key differences between horchata and arroz con leche:
- Horchata uses ground rice, arroz con leche uses unground rice
- Horchata includes almonds, arroz con leche does not
- Horchata has a lighter consistency, arroz con leche is thick and creamy
- Horchata is a drink, arroz con leche is a dessert pudding
- Horchata is chilled, arroz con leche can be served warm or chilled
- Horchata has subtle sweetness, arroz con leche is sweeter
The main ingredients in horchata and arroz con leche are:
|Arroz con Leche
The key ingredient difference is that horchata uses ground rice that is soaked and strained, while arroz con leche uses unground rice that is cooked into the milk.
The textures of horchata and arroz con leche are noticeably different:
- Horchata: Smooth, light and refreshing. Horchata has a creamy, milky consistency from the starch in the ground rice. But it still feels light and thin enough to drink.
- Arroz con leche: Thick, rich and creamy. The unground rice grains soften and release starch to thicken the milk into a lush, velvety pudding texture.
Horchata would be described as an agua fresca type drink. Arroz con leche has a smooth, thick custard or porridge-like texture characteristic of rice puddings.
While both contain cinnamon, their overall flavours are quite different:
- Horchata: Subtly sweet with nutty rice and cinnamon notes. Horchata tends to be lighter in sweetness to balance the rich, starchy rice flavour. The almonds add extra nuttiness.
- Arroz con leche: Sweet and spiced, with stronger cinnamon flavour. Since arroz con leche is a dessert, it contains more sugar to make it sweeter. The cinnamon is robust and distinctly noticeable in the creamy rice.
Horchata highlights the rice and nutty flavours, while arroz con leche is more about the sweet cinnamon against the backdrop of creamy rice. Their purposes as a drink vs dessert influences the use of sugar and spice.
Horchata and arroz con leche require very different preparation methods:
- Soak long grain white rice overnight
- Drain rice and grind with almonds, cinnamon and a bit of sugar
- Strain rice-almond mixture through a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
- Add and stir in sugar and milk (optional) to taste
- Chill horchata before serving over ice
Arroz Con Leche:
- Rinse and cook long grain white rice with milk, sugar and cinnamon
- Simmer, stirring frequently, until rice is very soft and milk thickens
- Add vanilla and adjust sugar and cinnamon as desired
- Allow pudding to cool to serve warm, or chill completely before serving
Horchata requires grinding the rice, straining the solids and then chilling the liquid. Arroz con leche is cooked on the stove top like a pudding until the rice softens fully in the milk.
Not only are the preparation methods different, but horchata and arroz con leche have their own customary serving styles:
- Horchata is served chilled, over ice, with lime wedges or with Mexican snacks like churros. It is a refreshing drink for any time of day.
- Arroz con leche is warm as a comforting dessert, or chilled from the fridge. It’s commonly topped with ground cinnamon or dried fruits. Arroz con leche is strictly a sweet dessert.
Horchata can be a drink accompanying a meal or on its own. Arroz con leche is solely a sweet, custardy dessert to end a meal.
When considering the differences in ingredients, texture and preparation method, the end result taste of horchata vs arroz con leche is understandably different:
- Horchata is subtly and delicately sweet, with nutty and starchy rice flavours and a hint of cinnamon. It is light and refreshing.
- Arroz con leche is rich, sweet and cinnamon-forward. It highlights the creamy, thickened rice and milk flavours with lots of sugar and robust cinnamon spice.
Horchata allows the rice and almond flavours to shine through with restrained sweetness. Arroz con leche is decadent dessert with bold cinnamon spice against a backdrop of sweet, thickened rice pudding.
Both drinks contain nutrients from milk and rice but their nutrition profiles differ:
|Arroz con leche
|Around 100 calories per cup
|Around 175 calories per cup
|2 grams per cup
|5 grams per cup
|22 grams per cup
|33 grams per cup
|Less than 1 gram per cup
|2 grams per cup
Arroz con leche is significantly higher in calories, protein, carbs and fat compared to horchata since it contains more rice and milk. Horchata is a lighter drink lower in calories and carbs.
Both horchata and arroz con leche hold cultural significance in Latin American cuisine:
- Horchata originated in Valencia, Spain but became very popular in Mexico. It is now associated with Mexicancuisine and culture, especially in central and northern regions.
- Arroz con leche originated from a Spanish rice pudding. It spread through Latin America becoming an iconic comforting dessert in many Latin cultures.
Horchata is refreshing part of Mexican drinks and street food. Arroz con leche is a nostalgic, sweet ending to meals in Latino homes. Both drinks use Spanish rice making techniques that evolved into traditional beverages in Latin America..
These traditional drinks can now both be found globally:
- Horchata is widely available in Mexico, Americas, Spain and has gained popularity in the US, especially in Mexican restaurants and Latin grocery stores.
- Arroz con leche is common in Spain and Latin America and can also be found in specialty international groceries and dessert shops around the world.
As Latin cuisine gains influence worldwide, both horchata and arroz con leche are becoming more recognized international drinks. However, horchata is more prevalent globally today as it is served as a drink, while arroz con leche remains more commonly found in Latin cuisine.
Those with allergies should be aware of the potential allergens in these rice drinks:
- Horchata – rice, tree nuts (almonds), milk (if added)
- Arroz con leche – rice, milk/dairy
Horchata contains rice, often almond milk (nut allergy) and sometimes dairy milk. Arroz con leche always contains dairy milk and rice.
For those avoiding ingredients, both drinks can be modified:
- Horchata – dairy or non-dairy milks instead of water, coconut sugar instead of regular, cashews instead of almonds
- Arroz con leche – non-dairy milks like coconut or almond, additional spices like vanilla or nutmeg
The core rice ingredients can’t be substituted but the liquids, nuts, spices and sweeteners can be adapted in both drinks.
Since horchata is a drink and arroz con leche is a cooked dessert, their storage differs:
- Horchata – Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen for months.
- Arroz con leche – Store covered in the refrigerator 3-4 days. Freezes well for longer term storage.
The high dairy and rice content means both need refrigeration. Horchata lasts slightly longer since it doesn’t contain eggs like some arroz con leche recipes do.
Horchata is generally cheaper to make than arroz con leche:
- Horchata – Requires basic inexpensive ingredients like rice, sugar, cinnamon. Total cost around $0.30 to $0.60 per serving.
- Arroz con leche – Uses more milk and rice per serving, plus eggs and more cinnamon. Total cost $0.90 to $1.50 per serving.
The simplicity of horchata’s ingredients makes it very affordable. Arroz con leche requires larger amounts of dairy and rice to create the creamy dessert texture, increasing the cost.
Horchata is easier and quicker to prepare than arroz con leche:
- Horchata – Very straightforward to make with basic steps like soaking, straining and mixing. Total prep under 30 minutes plus overnight soaking.
- Arroz con leche – Requires constant stirring and simmering to get the texture right. Can take 1-2 hours total cooking time.
The simplicity of ingredients and method makes horchata very simple to make. Arroz con leche is more labor intensive.
While both are rice-based Latin drinks, horchata and arroz con leche have distinct differences. Horchata is a light sweet drink made from ground rice and spices. Arroz con leche is a creamy, cinnamon-spiced dessert pudding using unground rice and dairy milk. Horchata highlights subtle nutty rice flavours. Arroz con leche is all about the sweet, thickened custard texture. Now that you know the key distinctions between their ingredients, taste, preparation and cultural roles, you can decide which rice drink suits your preferences!