The Secrets of Colombian Arepas: A Culinary Staple

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Arepas, a type of flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour, is a staple food in Colombia and Venezuela. In Colombia, it is more than just a dish; it is a symbol of cultural heritage and a source of national pride. This article will uncover the secrets behind Colombian arepas, their history, variations, and how they have become a culinary staple not only in Colombia but around the world.

History of Arepas

The history of arepas dates back to the indigenous tribes of Colombia and Venezuela, long before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. The indigenous people would soak and grind corn kernels to create a dough, then shape it into small patties and cook them on a clay griddle called a ‘budare.’ Today, the process is similar, but modern conveniences, such as pre-cooked cornmeal, have made it much easier to prepare.

Ingredients and Variations

The basic ingredients for arepas are quite simple: pre-cooked cornmeal (masarepa), warm water, salt, and a bit of oil or butter. However, there are many variations of arepas, with different regions of Colombia having their own unique recipes.

  • Arepas de Choclo: Made with sweet corn and often filled with cheese.
  • Arepas de Queso: Made with cheese mixed into the dough or stuffed inside.
  • Arepas de Huevo: Originating from the Caribbean coast of Colombia, these arepas are filled with an egg before frying.

Traditional Preparation

  1. Mixing the Dough: Start by mixing the pre-cooked cornmeal, warm water, salt, and oil or butter in a bowl. Knead the mixture until it forms a smooth, pliable dough.
  2. Shaping the Arepas: Divide the dough into portions and shape them into small, round patties about 1/2 inch thick.
  3. Cooking the Arepas: Heat a bit of oil or butter in a pan and cook the arepas on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes on each side until they are golden brown and have a crispy crust.

Modern Twists

While traditional arepas will always have a special place in the hearts of Colombians, there are also many modern twists to this classic dish. Chefs and home cooks alike are getting creative with the fillings, using ingredients like avocado, pulled pork, and even chocolate. Some are even experimenting with different types of flour, such as quinoa or whole wheat, to make healthier versions of arepas.

Serving Suggestions

Arepas can be served at any time of the day, from breakfast to dinner. They can be served plain, with butter or cheese, or split open and filled with a variety of ingredients such as meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables. In Colombia, arepas are often served with hogao, a tomato and onion sauce, or with aji, a spicy Colombian salsa.

Nutritional Benefits

Arepas are not only delicious but also nutritious. Corn, the main ingredient, is a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Arepas are also gluten-free, making them suitable for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. However, it is important to note that the nutritional content of arepas can vary depending on the ingredients used and how they are prepared.

Arepas Around the World

Arepas have gained popularity outside of Colombia and Venezuela, with arepa restaurants popping up in cities around the world. While the traditional versions will always be beloved, the global popularity of arepas has led to new and exciting variations, incorporating ingredients and flavors from different cuisines.


Arepas are a beloved culinary staple in Colombia, with a rich history and a variety of delicious variations. Whether you prefer the traditional arepas de choclo, the modern avocado-filled arepa, or something in between, there is an arepa for everyone. So next time you are looking for a tasty and nutritious meal, consider making arepas!


  1. What is the main ingredient in arepas? The main ingredient in arepas is pre-cooked cornmeal, known as masarepa.
  2. Are arepas gluten-free? Yes, arepas are naturally gluten-free as they are made from cornmeal.
  3. Can I fill arepas with any ingredients? Yes, you can fill arepas with a variety of ingredients, from traditional options like cheese and meat to more modern twists like avocado and pulled pork.
  4. What is the difference between Colombian and Venezuelan arepas? While both Colombian and Venezuelan arepas are made from cornmeal, they differ in their preparation and fillings. Colombian arepas are usually thicker and can be filled or topped with various ingredients, while Venezuelan arepas are often split open and filled with a variety of ingredients.
  5. Where can I find pre-cooked cornmeal? Pre-cooked cornmeal, or masarepa, can be found in most grocery stores, especially those that carry international or Latin American products. It is also available online.


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