This is a coquito drink.

If eggnog had a bit of tropical flair, it might be something more like coquito, the spiced coconut-and-rum drink popular in Puerto Rico throughout the holiday season. Coquito (Spanish for “little coconut”) is nothing new to people with ties to the island—recipes have been passed down in families for generations. Whether coquito feels nostalgic or is totally new to you, you may be wondering how this boozy beverage compares nutrition-wise with eggnog.

There’s nothing wrong with a celebratory beverage every once in a while. Americans drank around 61 million quarts of eggnog last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Statistics on coquito are harder to find, though it is nearly ubiquitous in Puerto Rican and other Latin American communities.

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“I remember making coquito since I was a little girl,” says Iris Mercado, EdD, CDN, a nutrition and health professor at Hostos Community College in New York City. Mercado recalls her grandmother in Puerto Rico making coconut milk from fresh coconuts for coquito that she would keep on hand to share with friends who would stop by for late night “parrandas,” surprise visits during the holiday season. “The tradition is that people come and visit you unexpectedly,” she says. “If people stop by, you need to have something to offer them.”

Of course, this year visits are discouraged because of the pandemic. However, coquito is something that people can make and drop off for friends and neighbors.

The Health Differences

The fact that both coquito and eggnog play an important role in wintertime festivities may be the biggest thing they have in common. Their creaminess comes from different ingredients. A basic eggnog recipe calls for heavy cream, milk, sugar, eggs, spices, and liquor like brandy, rum, or whiskey.

As for coquito, there are many variations, but traditionally it includes some combination of coconut milk, cream of coconut, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, spices, and rum. Some people add eggs to their coquito; a newer trend is adding flavors like pistachio or chocolate, Mercado says.

Whatever the specifics of your coquito, though, don’t be fooled into thinking that the coconut base makes it somehow a healthier option. While the cream and whole milk in eggnog are high in saturated fat, so are the coconut milk and evaporated milk used in coquito. “Too much saturated fat can clog your arteries,” says Sandra Arévalo, MPH, RDN, director of community and patient education at Montefiore Nyack Hospital in New York. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Coquito may seem lower in sugars because recipes don’t typically call for sugar as an ingredient. However, some of the ingredients used in coquito recipes themselves are loaded with sugar. Sweetened condensed milk, for example, is about as close as you can get to liquid candy. “Just cook sweetened condensed milk and you get caramel,” Arévalo says.

There is one small advantage that coquito may have over eggnog, which is that it doesn’t rely on raw eggs for its thickness. Even eggs that look and smell fine can contain salmonellaa pathogen that can cause illness. But if you’re opting for coquito because it seems like a safer choice, be aware that some recipes do include eggs. Skip those, especially if you’re 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system, because if you were infected with salmonella, you'd be at risk for having more severe symptoms.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a healthier festive beverage, neither coquito nor eggnog has the clear nutrition advantage. Either way, you’re drinking a boozy, rich beverage. “Alcohol is alcohol, and sweet is sweet,” Mercado says.

However, tweaking coquito recipes to meet a loved one’s dietary needs isn’t unheard of. For less sugar, you might experiment with cutting back on sweetened condensed milk or using fresh coconuts instead of cream of coconut like Mercado’s grandmother used to. Mercado herself has adjusted her recipe over the years to satisfy lactose intolerant friends and family. “I use coconut cream and coconut milk, so it’s still dense but has no dairy,” she says. 

For either beverage, just like any alcohol or dessert, moderation is key. “It’s not something you’re going to be drinking all year round,” Arévalo says. Fortunately, it is so rich that a small serving is often completely satisfying. ¡Salud!