What Are Pastillas De Leche And What Do They Taste Like?

Candy is universally loved, even if what is considered "candy" varies depending on where you are in the world. Whether you're in China and enjoying a White Rabbit toffee, chewing on some tamarind candy from Thailand, or trying a Mozartkugel in Austria, the world is full of unique and delicious sweets to try. If you have a sweet tooth, pastillas de leche are one of those decadent treats that'll keep you coming back for more. 

If you've never tried these delicious little candies, you're probably not alone. They're not very popular in the United States, because they were created (and popularized) in the Philippines. These sweet milk-based treats aren't always easy to find, but they are fairly easy to make. They're usually referred to as simply "pastillas," though they can also be called "pastiyema" (via Foxy Folksy). So what are these tasty little milk candies that have made such a sweet splash in Filipino culture?

What are pastillas de leche?

Pastillas de leche are milk-based candies that originated in the Philippines. This Spanish phrase directly translates to "milk pills," Delishably notes, but they're actually a delicious little candy that many people absolutely adore. Traditional pastillas are made not from cow's milk, but from the milk of a carabao, a water buffalo native to the Philippines. However, Delishably acknowledges that carabao milk isn't always easy to find, and says it's possible to make pastillas using other types of milk, including powdered milk.

Pastillas are usually made with some variation of the same ingredients: milk, sugar, and citrus. They're shaped into little cylinders or spheres and usually wrapped in paper for individual consumption, similar to a piece of taffy. Delishably writes that the water buffalo milk "is traditionally mixed with refined sugar and citrus extract, usually from calamansi (Philippine lime)" to create the distinct sweet treat that the country loves so well. Panlasang Pinoy claims that "the best Pastillas are the ones that are made using Carabao's milk," but of course, you can get a little creative if you don't have that nearby.

How are pastillas de leche made?

The process for making your own pastillas de leche varies depending on what type of milk you use. One recipe from Kawaling Pinoy recommends reducing fresh milk and sugar on the stovetop for 1 to 1.5 hours, then adding in lime zest, butter, and powdered milk. Once this mixture starts pulling from the sides and forms a dough-like consistency, pour the mixture onto a plate and allow it to cool. Divide the dough and into about 40 segments and roll them in a layer of sugar, wrapping each in Japanese paper or cellophane to finish them. 

Another recipe from Panlasang Pinoy uses powdered milk and condensed milk for a quicker, no-cook recipe. You simply fold powdered milk into condensed milk until it forms a dough-like consistency. Then, divide and shape the dough, give everything a nice coating of sugar, and wrap each piece up in paper. Serious Eats follows a similar procedure as the Kawaling Pinoy recipe, but adds in a bit of heavy cream and a touch of salt and omits the butter and lime zest.

What do pastillas de leche taste like?

The taste of pastillas de leche varies based on what type of milk is used and if any flavors are added. If made traditionally, "carabao's milk is said to be creamier and richer, giving pastillas de leche a distinct tang," Delishably explains, adding that "the texture should be extra-smooth, almost velvety." According to the WikiHow article on pastillas de leche, their flavor "resembles a sweetened caramel in consistency and taste." Common flavors added to pastillas de leche, according to Delishably, include ube, mango, and chocolate.

As with most foods that are unique in their creation, describing these candies to someone who has never tasted their distinct flavor can be difficult. Many blogs and recipes, including Food and Wine, describe pastillas de leche as "milky" and "chewy," which makes sense considering the primary ingredient is milk that is cooked down until it forms a dough. With so few ingredients (milk and sugar), it's probably safe to assume that these delicious Filipino candies have a sweet and creamy taste, probably similar to a vanilla ice cream if it were in nougat or caramel form.

Where to buy pastillas de leche

Unless you're living in the Philippines, it may be difficult to find local or freshly made pastillas de leche near you. Fortunately, the popularity of these creamy candies is rising in the United States, making it easier to find them on sites like Amazon and in a few stores. The brand Gwenie's Pastries has bags of pastillas de leche that can be found in some Walmarts and online, or you can order directly through their website. Aiza's Sweets can be bought online through the Asian grocery service Panda Pack; their pastillas come in a variety pack with a multitude of different flavors, from buko pandan and ube to classic leche. 

The brand Lucia sells ube-flavored pastillas de leche on Amazon, as well as variety packs on certain Filipino food vendor websites, such as Sarap Now. While they may be a little tough to find, there are several options for grabbing yourself some pastillas de leche. Worst case scenario, you can always try making these sweet treats for yourself at home!