The Difference Between Pupusas And Arepas

When it comes to Latin American cuisine, corn — or maiz – is a staple ingredient found in many dishes, which The Spruce Eats explains "has been cultivated in South America for more than 5,000 years." As the star ingredient in a wide array of foods among the varying countries and cultures that make up the region, corn (when combined with other ingredients) can be enjoyed stewed, steamed, or even slurped down as a refreshing beverage.

One popular way corn is used is ground and griddled until fluffy and then stuffed or topped with a variety of delectable ingredients. According to Thrift and Spice, many countries have their own iteration of the griddled corn patty, such as pupusas in El Salvador and arepas in Colombia and Venezuela; but while pupusas and arepas share a commonality of corn as their base ingredient, the type of corn that is used as well as the way each dish is prepared and served varies significantly — each one bringing a unique flavor profile and texture that cannot, and should not, be confused.

Similar ingredients, different results

Arepas are corn patties, griddled or fried, that are incredibly popular in Colombia and Venezuela. According to Vanderbilt University, it is believed that the arepas were first invented by the Timoto-Cuica people (who the university explains are "an indigenous group inhabiting the Andes Mountains in a region now recognized as western Venezuela") hundreds of years ago. The term "arepa" is said to come from "erepa," an indigenous word for corn (via Amaize Latin Flavors). Unlike Salvadorian pupusas, Thrift and Spice says arepas are made using precooked cornmeal known as masarepa, and are cooked first, then sliced open and stuffed or topped with an array of ingredients ranging from cheese, to beans, to eggs.

Pupusas, which Vanderbilt University names the national food of El Salvador, are corn patties believed to have been created by the Pipil tribe: an indigenous group that lived in the region now known as El Salvador over 2000 years ago. Unlike arepas precooked cornmeal, pupusas are made from instant corn masa flour (via Thrift and Spice). It is important to note that you can't use masarepa to make pupusas, just as you can't use instant corn masa flour to make arepas — substituting one for the other will not give you the desired results. The steps taken to prepare pupusas also differentiates them from arepas, as pupusas are stuffed with their fillings before they are cooked. Once cooked, pupusas are often served and enjoyed with curtido, a tangy cabbage slaw. Now that you know the difference you'll never confuse the two again!