Some dishes have a rich history and are deeply embedded in certain cultures, meaning that they are sometimes enjoyed in more than one country.
One such dish is natilla – but what is it and where is it eaten? Where did it even come from in the first place?
If you want to learn more about natilla, then this is the place for you.
We are going to be covering the history and origins of natilla so you can know everything there is about this popular dessert.
So, check out the information below!
What Is Natilla?
First up, let’s all make sure we’re talking about the same dish – natilla.
Natilla is a custard-based dessert that is enjoyed in many different places around the world.
It is made mainly from eggs and milk (just like a lot of custard desserts) but can be served in a bowl or served cold and firm.
This, to some people, makes it very similar to desserts like flan.
It is definitely a rich dessert with strong flavors of custard but also of sweet spices like cinnamon.
It’s very sweet, and some recipes even add additional ingredients of coconut to help enhance the sweetness further.
This makes it a perfect dessert to enjoy in warm climates and weather as it’s super sweet and cool.
So, now you know what natilla is – but where did it come from?
The Origins Of Natilla
Natilla’s roots can be traced back all the way to Spain, a country in western Europe known for its rich culture and amazing cuisine.
There, natilla originated as a delicious dessert made using ingredients such as milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon.
It is made by gentlying bringing the milk to boil and then adding the egg yolks very slowly while stirring.
One by one, the other ingredients are added until you are left with a deliciously rich and sweet custard.
Natilla has a lot of similarities to other custard dishes served in neighboring countries such as France or England.
There, natilla is very similar to typical English custard or France’s creme anglaise (which translates to English Cream).
However, natilla is considered to be thinner than these other dishes.
Another dish natilla is often compared to is flan but there are a few very striking differences between these two desserts.
Flan contains caramel and does not typically feature cinnamon as one of its key flavors, while natilla is a lot richer.
So, natilla originates from Spain. In fact, the name itself is made from different phrases and words in Spanish including ‘nata’ meaning cream, and ‘crema de leche’ which means milk cream, a reference to the consistency of natilla itself.
Although natilla originated in Spain, this does not mean that this is the only country in the world where natilla is eaten regularly.
In fact, there are several other countries that enjoy natilla as part of their national cuisine – but which countries are these? Let’s find out!
Where Is Natilla Eaten?
While natilla originates from Spain and is still cooked and enjoyed there to this day, it has spread to several other Spanish-speaking countries.
This is likely due to how Spaniards traveled and colonized multiple countries during the 1500s. As more Spaniards moved aboard and colonized the New World, they took with them their culture, language, and cuisine.
As a result, hundreds of years later, natilla is still eaten in a range of different countries in the Americas.
Let’s take a closer look at a few and how natilla has adapted over the centuries in these areas.
If there is a country other than Spain which is best associated with natilla, then it’s Colombia.
Colombia loves natilla and it is one of the popular desserts eaten during the Christmas celebrations.
However, Colombians have made a few changes to make their own version of natilla.
This includes the removal of eggs from Colombian natilla, the inclusion of panela ( a type of block of brown sugar), flour or cornstarch, and a lot more cinnamon.
This gives Colombian natilla a more flan-like texture, making it distinctive from Spanish natilla.
Some versions of Colombian natilla neven add raisins or grated coconut for additional sweetness and texture but these are completely optional additives.
Once finished, the natilla is garnished with some powdered cinnamon and voila – you have a plate of traditional Colombian natilla!
Natilla is sold across the country during Christmas and you can even find pre-made natilla for sale in a lot of stores there.
There are even Christmas traditions surrounding natilla in Colombia, where improvised campfires are set up on the streets or patios and used to make home-made natilla.
But natilla is not eaten on its own in Colombia. The dish is usually eaten alongside two other dishes – buñuelos and manjar blanco.
Buñuelos are a popular type of fried dough fritter, covered in sugar, and is very similar to a classic donut. This makes them perfect for eating alongside a dessert like natilla.
As for manjar blanco, it is a milk-based dessert that is thickened into a kind of jelly or spread with a similar consistency to cake frosting.
It’s sweet and creamy, and is used to top or fill pastries so it can be spread onto buñuelos as they are eaten alongside natilla.
Natilla is also eaten in Mexico but is made to be a thicker version of a popular dessert drink, Atole.
Atole is a popular beverage consumed during celebrations such as Dia de los Muertos or Las Posadas.
It’s made using similar ingredients to natilla, including cinnamon and flour, but is much thinner and eaten as a traditional comfort food.
So, natillas and atole share a lot of similarities but are consumed in different ways. Atole is usually drunk while natilla is eaten.
In Peru, traditional natilla is a bit different from what you can find in other countries. It is made to be a spread rather than a dessert, made of milk and chancaca.
It is a rich brown color thanks to the caramelized sugar within its recipe and this also makes Peruvian natilla a lot thicker than the traditional dish – which is why it is more commonly used as a spread!
In Cuba, natilla is served as a cold dessert with a range of different ingredients added for additional flavor.
For example, Cuban natilla adds lemon peel for a more citrus flavor and uses evaporated milk rather than traditional cow’s milk.
Despite this, Cuban natilla is also enjoyed traditionally at Christmas and is served with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
There are actually two versions of natilla served in Puerto Rico.
The first is a sweet version that is very similar to traditional natilla, and is served during Christmas but is baked using the same method as creme brulee.
The other version of natilla is a breakfast food that can be served hot or cold, with additional ingredients such as honey, nuts, and fruit.
Despite these differences, both versions of Puerto Rican natilla add coconut cream, cinnamon, fruit zest, and orange blossom water for extra flavor.
In Costa Rica, natilla is the term used for a type of sour cream condiment – a far cry from traditional natilla!
This is because it uses pasteurized milk and adds salt to the cream, making it completely different in terms of flavor.
In the United States, natilla is enjoyed in states such as New Mexico where there is a lot of overlap with Mexican culture and cuisine.
There, natillas is closer to custard in terms of consistency as it adds egg whites and flour to its recipe, separating it from the Mexican counterpart.
So, natilla may be a simple dish but it has a rich history which means the dish is enjoyed in a range of different countries and with different recipes.
Each one has its own spin on this classic Spanish dessert, to check out the differences above!