The drink typically includes masa (corn meal), water, piloncillo, cinnamon, vanilla and optional chocolate or fruit. The mixture is blended and heated before serving. The resulting blends vary in texture, ranging from a porridge to a very thin liquid consistency. Atole can also be prepared with rice flour or oatmeal in place of masa. In northern Mexico there is also a variation using pinole (sweetened toasted corn meal). Although atole is one of the traditional drinks of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, it is very common during breakfast and dinnertime at any time of year. It is usually sold as street food.
Other derivations exist. In New Mexico, blue corn atole is finely ground cornmeal toasted for cooking, consumed as a grainy porridge-style drink served warm, usually sweetened with sugar and/or thinned with milk. It is usually served at breakfast like cream of wheat or oatmeal. It is said that elders would drink Atole because it gave them energy and if a mother is nursing it gives them more milk. Salvadoran varieties include atol shuco ("dirty" atol, a reference to its darker color), particularly popular in the Cabañas region.