|Vulnerable plaques are the major cause of carotid and coronary vascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke. A correct modeling of plaque echomorphology and composition can help the identification of such lesions. The Rayleigh distribution is widely used to describe (nearly) homogeneous areas in ultrasound images. Since plaques may contain tissues with heterogeneous regions, more complex distributions depending on multiple parameters are usually needed, such as Rice, K or Nakagami distributions. In such cases, the problem formulation becomes more complex, and the optimization procedure to estimate the plaque echomorphology is more difficult. Here, we propose to model the tissue echomorphology by means of a mixture of Rayleigh distributions, known as the Rayleigh mixture model (RMM). The problem formulation is still simple, but its ability to describe complex textural patterns is very powerful. In this paper, we present a method for the automatic estimation of the RMM mixture parameters by means of the expectation maximization algorithm, which aims at characterizing tissue echomorphology in ultrasound (US). The performance of the proposed model is evaluated with a database of in vitro intravascular US cases. We show that the mixture coefficients and Rayleigh parameters explicitly derived from the mixture model are able to accurately describe different plaque types and to significantly improve the characterization performance of an already existing methodology.