Horchata is the name used for several drinks with a plant milk base. It has a sweet taste that’s also cool and refreshing.
Even though the drink is made with plant milk, vegans may want to double-check whether the beverage is vegan-friendly.
A product may seem plant-based, but a lot of manufacturers can slip animal matter into seemingly vegan food items.
So, is horchata suitable for vegans? The answer is complicated. Traditional horchata recipes may use vegan ingredients, but some brands may use animal matter in their formula.
You’ll find more about whether horchata is suitable for vegans or not in this post, including some horchata ingredients that vegans should view with caution.
Why Do People Think Horchata Is Vegan?
Horchata is traditionally made using plant milk. Most of these recipes use an ingredient known as tiger nuts, but despite the name, they aren’t really nuts.
Tiger nuts, also known as chufa, is a crop that comes from the sedge family. Tiger nuts are found all over the globe, but U.S. citizens may not be aware of them, as they are mainly found in Africa, Southern Europe, and the Indian subcontinent.
Tiger nuts aren’t nuts, but they look like little bulbs. They are roughly the same size as a garbanzo bean, but they are chewy and wrinkly on the surface. Tiger nuts taste sweet and have a buttery texture.
The composites within tiger nuts can seep out into the water, just like cashews and almonds. This is why they are ideal for creating plant milk.
Tiger nuts aren’t the only plant ingredients used to make horchata milk. Rice is also a common choice, particularly in mass-produced beverage mixes. Additional ingredients are often added to rice milk horchata versions, of cinnamon and vanilla.
As tiger nuts and rice are common horchata ingredients, the drink is regularly suitable for vegans. Other vegan ingredients that you may notice in these recipes are nutmeg, sesame seeds, cocoa, and spices.
When Is Horchata Not Vegan?
Horchata is generally accepted as vegan, but food producers can often add animal-sourced ingredients to make their products taste better.
The main offender is milk. A product may not be milk-based, but this doesn’t guarantee against finding milk in the ingredients.
Milk is a common ingredient that’s added to food for several reasons. The proteins in milk improve the texture and nutritional content of many beverages.
Casein and whey are examples of these proteins. Casein is added to blend and balance certain ingredients, while whey thickens the drink to improve its consistency. Lactose, the naturally occurring sugars within milk, give a recipe a pleasant tang to improve its taste.
Milk is often used in processed versions of horchata, as well as other drinks, to improve its protein content, flavor, consistency, and nutritional value.
Mono- And Diglycerides
Some pre-made horchata brands, like Mercarder Horchata, use mono- and diglycerides in their formula. Mono- and diglycerides are used to balance and blend ingredients, in a similar way to the milk proteins above. These cause debate among vegans as they are sometimes sourced from animals. However, the use of mono- and diglycerides doesn’t mean that a product is non-vegan.
These are generally derived from plants, although it’s hard to tell whether or not this is the case unless the term ‘plant glycerides’ is used on the label. If you’re a stricter vegan, you should be wary of horchata drinks that contain mono- and diglycerides.
The sweet taste of horchata is one of the main reasons why it is so popular. Horchata is usually sweetened with agave syrup and a little vanilla, which would make it vegan.
However, some recipes and brands may add animal-sourced sweeteners to their horchata. A common example is condensed milk, as it provides a creamy texture in addition to its sweet flavors. Honey may also be used if agave syrup isn’t available.
If you’re ordering horchata from a restaurant, it’s a good idea to ask the establishment about their horchata ingredients.
Some places may follow your requests about using particular types of sweeteners, though this may not be possible in other areas.
Horchata recipes are usually vegan-friendly, but some people may add non-vegan ingredients to the beverage to improve its flavor or consistency.
If you’re purchasing a ready-made horchata or a mix blend, keep a lookout for non-vegan ingredients, like milk or mono- and diglycerides.
If you’re ordering horchata, ask the wait staff about the ingredients used in their recipe, and always check the ingredient list on the back of any horchata mixes you’re buying from the store.