If you ever travel to any Latin-American country or explore the Latin-American cuisines then you’re bound to discover Arepas. Arepas are like pita bread made of arepa flour and paired with a filling of choice.
Different Latin-American countries use different techniques for making arepas. They can be crunchy or soft and pillowy. Then served at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even as a side dish. Due to as mellow taste, you can be as creative with the filling. For example, adding old-aged Gouda cheese to add saltiness and sharpness.
Contrary to what you may think, arepas are easy to make and only require 3 ingredients. The main one is arepa flour.
What is arepa flour?
Arepa flour is refined precooked, ground, cornmeal known in certain regions as Masarepa (North America & Mexico) or precooked cornmeal (Europe). Back in the day, people used to soak dried corn, cook them, and then ground them to make flour. Precook corn flour removes all that labor so you only need to mix it with water and salt to turn it into a dough.
Over the last few years, Arepas gained more and more popularity, especially with the Colombian version making a “cameo” in Encanto. I also believe that its popularity is also because arepa flour/Masarepa is gluten-free, making arepa on itself a gluten-free dish. So, to everyone wondering if Masarepa/arepa flour is gluten-free. Yes, it is! Brands making arepas flour never promoted their flour as gluten-free which is why you may not see a gluten-free sign on the package.
Arepa Flour vs. Masa Harina
Arepa flour or Masarepa is often confused with Masa Harina. While they´re both a type of cornmeal, the production process is different making the final product different as well. Arepa flour is more refined and tastes starchier. Masa harina, on the other hand, is soaked in an alkaline solution before prepping to be ground. Masa harina is commonly used for making tortillas, tamales, etc. So yes, there is a significant difference between arepa flour and masa harina.
Arepa Flour vs Cornmeal
On arepa flour packages, you´ll often see ´precooked cornmeal´ written. The keyword is ´precooked´ because not all cornmeal is precooked. Cornmeal is milled raw, but arepa flour is cooked before being grounded. Contrary to cornmeal, when you mix the flour with water, masarepa can absorb that water to turn the mixture into a dough.
Are there Arepa Flour substitutes?
After trying many types of cornmeal, I can confidently say there isn´t a substitute for arepa flour. Unless you want to mill your corn, that is. Both cornmeal and masa harina won´t work properly when creating Venezuelan or Colombian arepas.
Best Types to Use
The preferred choice of Latin/American grandma is Harina P.A.N. It´s also my preferred cornmeal. They have yellow and white cornmeal. Use the white cornmeal for making your arepas.
If you can´t find Harina P.A.N, you can use La Venezolana, Doñarepa, or Goya´s Masarepa. There are a few more brands available, but these are the most readily available brands.
Where to Buy
Depending on where you live you can find arepa flour in the international/Latin-American aisle of your grocery store. People living in Europe will most probably find arepa flour at an international food market. If not, check online. Even well-known grocery stores will have arepa flour in their online store but not in local shops.