You are here: / Education / Foods / Puerto Rican Cuisine

Puerto Rican Cuisine

People Taste Test Puerto Rican Food

Mofongo – “That sounds like an elephant in a Disney movie.”

220px-Comidapr3_1Cocina Criolla can be traced back to African, Amerindian and Spanish inhabitants of the island

Puerto Rican cuisine has its roots in the cooking traditions and practices of Europe (Spain), Africa and the Amerindian Taínos. In the latter part of the 19th century, the cuisine of Puerto Rico was greatly influenced by the United States in the ingredients used in its preparation. Puerto Rican cuisine has transcended the boundaries of the island, and can be found in several countries outside the archipelago.


220px-Comidapr_1Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and other Hispanic cuisines, it is a unique blend of influences

The cuisines of Spain, Taíno and Arawaks Amerindians, and parts of the African continent have had an impact on how food is prepared in Puerto Rico. Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and Latin American cuisine, it is a unique tasty blend of influences, using indigenous seasonings and ingredients. Locals call their cuisine cocina criolla. The traditional Puerto Rican cuisine was well established by the end of the nineteenth century. By 1848 the first restaurant, La Mallorquina, opened in Old San JuanEl Cocinero Puertorriqueño, the island’s first cookbook was published in 1849.

Taino Amerindian influences

From the diet of the Taíno (culturally related with the Maya and Carib peoples of Central America and the Caribbean), and Arawak people come many tropical roots and tubers like yautía (taro) and especially Yuca (cassava), from which thin cracker-like casabebread is made. Ajicito or cachucha pepper, a slightly hot habanero pepper, recao/culantro (spiny leaf), achiote (annatto), peppersají caballero (the hottest pepper native to Puerto Rico), peanuts, guavaspineapplesjicacos (cocoplum), quenepas (mamoncillo), lerenes (Guinea arrowroot), calabazas (tropical pumpkins), and guanabanas (soursops) are all Taíno foods. The Taínos also grew varieties of beans and some maíz (corn/maize), but maíz was not as dominant in their cooking as it was for the peoples living on the mainland of Mesoamerica. This is due to the frequent hurricanes that Puerto Rico experiences, which destroy crops of maíz, leaving more safeguarded plants like conucos (hills of yuca grown together).

220px-CilantrilloCilantrillo – Spanish / European influence

Spanish Cuisine

Spanish / European influence is also seen in Puerto Rican cuisine. Wheat, chickpeas(garbanzos), capersolivesolive oilblack pepper, onions, garlic, cilantrillo (cilantro),oreganobasilsugarcanecitrus fruit, eggplanthamlardchicken, beef, pork, and cheese all came to Borikén (Puerto Rico‘s Amerindian name) from Spain. The tradition of cooking complex stews and rice dishes in pots such as rice and beans are also thought to be originally European (much like Italians, Spaniards, and the British). Early Dutch, French, Italian, and Chinese immigrants influenced not only the culture but Puerto Rican cooking as well. This great variety of traditions came together to form La Cocina Criolla.

220px-Aranitas_tostonesPlantain “arañitas” & “tostones rellenos”

African influence

Coconuts, coffee (brought by the Arabs and Corsos to Yauco from Kafa, Ethiopia), okra,yamssesame seedsgandules (pigeon peas in English) sweet bananas, plantains, other root vegetables and Guinea hen, all come to Puerto Rico from Africa. African slaves introduced the deep-frying of food.

United States influence – Cuisine of the United States

The American influence on the way Puerto Ricans cook their meals came about after Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1916. The most significant has to do with how people fry food. The early Spaniards brought olive oil for cooking and frying, but importing it from Spain made it very expensive, and cooks on the island shifted over to lard, which could be produced locally. For 50 to 60 years, corn oil produced in the United States took the place of lard for making cuchifritos and alcapurrias.

Galletas de soda (soda crackers in tins, popularly known as export sodas from a popular brand name) are an American product of the 19th and early 20th centuries that reproduce the crunchy texture of the earlier casabe bread, and can be kept crunchy in the tins in high tropical humidity.

220px-MaracuyáParcha, Puerto Rican name for Passiflora edulis, passion fruit.

American bacon has also played a big part in Puerto Rican cuisine. It is used in rice, stewed beans, and to stuff mofongo and meats such as whole chicken and the breast. Bacon in Puerto Rico has found its way into traditional foods such as arroz con gandulesand potato salad.

South America influence

Other foods native to Latino America were brought to the island with the Spanish trade, such as cocoa, avocado, tomatoes, chayote, papaya, bell peppers and vanilla from Mexico and Central America. Potatoes and passion fruit were also brought over by the Spanish or Portuguese from Peru and Brazil.

Other influence

Panapén (breadfruit) was first imported into the British Caribbean colonies from the South Pacific as cheap slave food in the late 18th century. After spreading throughout the Antilles, panapén has also become an indispensable part of the Puerto Rican repertoire, both in puddings and crunchy, deep-fried tostones.

Canned Corned Beef stew

Pasta – Using Puerto Rican seasonings and meats.

Salchichas (canned Vienna sausages) – They were introduced in 1898. Today, they are scrambled with eggs and cooked in other dishes. Very popular cooked in rice as Arroz con Salchichas or stewed separately and served with white rice as Salchichas Guisadas (sausage stew).

Basic ingredients

220px-Kidney_beansred kidney beans (habichuelas coloradas)


220px-Pigeon_peas2pigeon peas (gandules)

Grains and legumes


  • Basil/Albahaca
  • Bay leaves – Laurel
  • Cilantro
  • Marjoram/Mejorana
  • Mint/Menta
  • Orégano brujo – Plectranthus amboinicus. Puerto Rican wild oregano. This oregano, with its distinctive pungent aroma, grows wild on the island. It is mainly used dry, and is a key ingredient in adobo seco and adobo mojado.
  • Parsley/Perejil
  • Culantro – Eryngium foetidum. Mexican coriander – 10 times the flavor of Cilantro.
  • Sage/Salvia
  • Tarragon/Estragón
  • Caribbean thyme/Tomillo – Same flavor as English thyme, but 10 times stronger.

Starchy tropical tubers

220px-Manihot_esculenta_dsc07325Yuca, Puerto Rican name for cassava.



220px-AjicitosAjicitos / Cachucha chili peppers

220px-Ají_CaballeroAjíes Caballero / Caballero chili peppers

Meats and poultry

220px-Helmeted_guineafowl_kruger00Guinea Hen


Seafood and shellfish ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.