How to make arepas

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In this article we tell you everything you need to know about making arepas. What are arepas made out of? How are arepas cooked? What is the difference between a Colombian arepa and a Venezuelan arepa? We also include a step by step tutorial (with photos) for how to make a basic arepa. 

Vegetarian plantain arepas

Types of arepas

If you are someone who enjoys food at all then I can practically guarantee you there is an arepa out there that you will love! There are so many different types of arepas that incorporate different ingredients and are eaten in different ways. Here are the three high level categories that most arepa recipes fall into. 

  • Basic arepas. Basic arepas are arepas that are made without any fillings and are served whole. These arepas can be treated like a dinner roll and topped with some melted butter or soft cheese. They can also be treated more like flatbread that are topped with meats and vegetables. Basic arepas can be made with a simple water and flour (masarepa) mix or other ingredients like cheese and sugar can be incorporated into the dough. 
  • Sandwich arepas. Sandwich arepas start out the same as basic arepas but after they are cooked they are cut in half and stuffed with a variety of fillings. These arepas tend to feature the most bold and flavorful ingredients, but there are always exceptions to this rule.
  • Stuffed arepas. Stuffed arepas are arepas that are – you guessed it – stuffed with other ingredients prior to cooking. The most common fillings for arepas to be stuffed with are cheese and eggs. Stuffed arepas tend to have simple, single-ingredient fillings, but there are exceptions here as well.

Prepared arepas

Q&A

Equipment for making arepas

Do you need any special equipment to make arepas?

Do you need any special equipment to make arepas? You can make arepas without any special equipment. However, it is easiest to make arepas if you have a tortilla press. If you use a tortilla press to flatten arepas they are less likely to crack than if you flatten them with your hands. If you are looking for more information on the benefits of buying a tortilla press you should check out our article on whether it is worth it to buy a tortilla press. 

How to cook arepas

What are arepas made of?  

What are arepas made of? Arepas are made of a pre-cooked corn flour called masarepa. Masarepa is commonly used in Colombian and Venezuelan cooking. Masarapa is used in the majority of arepa recipes and also shows up in other dishes such as Columbian empanadas and Columbian tamales. 

Is masarepa the same as masa harina? 

Is masarepa the same as masa harina? No masarepa is not the same as masa harina. Masarepa and masa harina are both corn based flours that are made with corn that has been treated to break down the germ and lining. However, the treatments that are applied to corn that is used for masarepa and corn that is used for masa harina are very different. Masarepa is made from corn that has been pounded to physically break down the germ whereas masa harina is made from corn that has been soaked in an alkaline solution to chemically break down the germ. Unlike the corn that is used to make masarepa, the corn that is used to make masa harina is not pre-cooked.   

Masarepa and masa harina have different textures and they also have different tastes. Masa harina has a stronger, nuttier taste than masarepa due to the treatment that is applied to it. Masarepa has a much more mild corn flavor. Masa harina feels a little smoother than masarepa, which feels a little gritty when you run your fingers through it. Dough that is made with masarepa tends to be a little more dense and crumbly than dough that is made with masa harina. 

What is the best masarepa brand for making arepas? 

What is the best masarepa brand for making arepas? I prefer to use P.A.N. masarepa which is also labeled as P.A.N. pre-cooked white corn meal. From what I have seen across other cooking forums and websites, P.A.N. appears to be the favored brand for most other arepa lovers as well.   

How thick should arepas be?

How thick should arepas be? Arepas should be around 1/2 inch – 1 inch in thickness. The exact thickness of an arepa can vary depending on where you get them and Colombian arepas tend to be a little thinner than Venezuelan arepas. However, they tend to be in the 1/2 inch – 1 inch range. 

How do you tell when an arepa is done? 

How do you tell when arepas are done cooking? When arepas are done they should have a solid crust on the outside but still be tender and moist on the inside. 

Arepas are generally cooked in two rounds – first on the stove then in the oven. When arepas are done on the stove they should be starting to develop patches of light to medium brown coloring on their outer crust. After that the arepas are cooked in the oven at a low temperature to help cook the insides better. In my experience the oven portion of the cooking process is fairly forgiving. Since the oven is at a low temperature there is a large window of time where the arepas are crusty on the outside and still tender on the inside.

Arepas and dietary restrictions

Are arepas gluten free?

Are arepas gluten free? Yes, arepas are naturally gluten free. Arepas are made from masarepa which is a corn based flour. Corn does not contain gluten.

For more information on arepas and gluten check out our article entitled are arepas gluten free?

Do arepas have dairy?  

Do arepas contain dairy? No, arepas do not contain dairy. Arepas are made with a few simple ingredients including water, masarepa (a corn-based flour), and salt. None of these core ingredients contain dairy. I will warn that some arepas are stuffed with cheese or topped butter. Make sure you ask whether an arepa contains any dairy if it has been prepared by someone other than yourself.  

Are arepas healthy? 

Are arepas healthy? Arepas are healthy when eaten in moderation. They are made of fairly basic ingredients so while they do not contain anything that is actively bad for your health, they are also not jam packed with nutrients. It is hard to make generalizations about the health content of arepas because there is such a wide variety in the fillings and toppings arepas are served with. 

Other questions about arepas

What do arepas taste like?  

What do arepas taste like? Arepas are made from a corn based flour so they taste like corn. Arepas have a much more mild corn taste than other corn products like corn tortillas and pupusas. This is because arepas are made with a pre-cooked corn flour that has not been treated with chemicals that enhance the corn flavor. 

Do you eat arepas with your hands? 

Do you eat arepas with your hands? Yes, you can eat arepas with you hands. This applies to all styles of arepas including sandwich arepas, basic arepas, and stuffed arepas. 

What is the difference between arepas and pupusas?  

What is the difference arepas and pupusas? There are a few differences between arepas and pupusas but the main difference is that these dishes are made from different types of corn-based flours. Pupusas are made from masa harina which is a nutty tasting corn flour that is also used to make tortillas, Mexican tamales, gorditas, and chalupas. Arepas are made from a much more mild corn flour that has been pre-cooked called masarepa. 

Another difference between arepas and pupusas is the way that filling is incorporated. It is common for pupusas to be stuffed with complex mixtures of beans, meats, cheeses and vegetables. These mixtures are incorporated into the dough before the pupusas are cooked. Arepas, on the other hand, are generally not stuffed with many ingredients before cooking. Most arepas are not stuffed with anything at all, but rather topped with ingredients or cut in half and stuffed with ingredients like a sandwich after cooking. Some arepas are stuffed with simple ingredients like cheese prior to being cooked, but the fillings that are used are generally far less complex than pupusa fillings. 

What is the difference between Colombian and Venezuelan arepas?  

What is the difference between Colombian arepas and Venezuelan arepas? The most obvious difference between Colombian arepas and Venezuelan arepas is the way they are served and the way other ingredients are incorporated. Venezuelan arepas are generally cut in half and stuffed with lots of ingredients like a sandwich, whereas Columbian arepas are more commonly served whole and topped with ingredients more like a flatbread. It is more common to see Colombian ingredients topped with simple ingredients like butter and cheese, though Colombian arepas definitely can be topped with bolder ingredients.

Another difference between Colombian and Venezuelan arepas is the thickness of the patties. Columbia arepas then to be a little thinner than Venezuelan areas. It is also slightly more common for Colombian arepas to have other ingredients like sugar or cheese incorporated directly into the dough. 

Arepa cooking tutorial

How to make arepas

Welcome to our step-by-step photo tutorial on how to make a basic arepa!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Breakfast, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Colombian, Venezuelan
Diet: Gluten Free, Low Lactose, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword: gluten free, vegan, vegetarian
Servings: 4 arepas

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 cup masarepa
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  • Combine all of the ingredients for the arepa dough and mix well. Seperate the dough into 4 equal parts and roll the dough out into balls.
    Dough balls for arepas
  • Flatten the arepas into disks that are about 1/2 inch - 1 inch thick. The dough will have a tendency to crumble around the edges as you flatten it.
    To clean up the edges you should first wet your hands. Hold the disks between palms of your hands then rotate the disks and use your thumb to smooth out the edges.
    How to shape arepas
  • Heat a griddle or pan over medium heat then cook the arepas for 3-6 minutes on each side. You should wait until the arepas start to brown before flipping them. While the arepas are cooking you should preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    Arepas on the grill
  • Put the arepas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake the arepsa for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. After that, the arepas are done!
    Prepared arepas

Tips for making arepas

  • Arepa dough is dense, especially if you add too much water. You should use as little water as possible in your arepa dough so that it does not become too dense. Add enough water so that the dough sticks together without crumbling when you shape it but no more.
  • If you find that the outer crust of your arepa gets too well done before the inside of the arepa cooks that means you need to cook your arepa at a lower temperature. Cooking any kind of dough for a longer time at a lower temperature helps to ensure the inside of the dough will cook through.

Other arepa recipes you will love


Vegetarian plantain arepas

This recipe for sandwich-style arepas with fried sweet plantains is our all time favorite arepa recipe! The sweetness of the fried plantains compliments the creaminess of the avocado so well. 


Columbian cheese stuffed arepas

If you are in the mood for a stuffed arepa you should check out our recipe for cheese stuffed arepas


cheese arepas - gluten free, vegetarian

Speaking of cheese, we are all a huge fan of these cheese arepas. Rather than being stuffed with cheese, these cheese arepas have cheese incorporated right into the dough.


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