What’s the Origin of Empanadas: A Complex Exploration 

Stuffed pastries empanadas are incredibly delicious. And it comes as no surprise when you tend to wonder, “where did they come from,” after tasting them.

Do you want to know about the exact origin of empanadas?

Buckle up because you’re about to uncover the mouthwatering history and origin of empanadas in today’s blog post.

What are Empanadas?

Empanadas are delicious, portable fried or baked pastries made by wrapping flavorful fillings in a thin dough, such as seasoned meats, vegetables, cheese, or fruits. Thought to have originated from Latin America, empanadas have become a global sensation, loved for their convenience and diverse fillings. They come in various shapes and sizes, reflecting regional influences and tastes.

What is the Origin of Present Day Empanadas?

The origins of present-day empanadas undeniably have deep roots in Spain. Historical records and ancient manuscripts, such as the 1520 Catalan cookbook Llibre del Coch by Robert de Nola, trace the early existence of empanadas in the coastal regions of Spain and Italy. The book mentions the recipes for stuffed pies (empanadas) as: “SALMON EMPANADO” numbered 181 number.” The seafood stuffing of these pies further hints that empanadas are rooted in Galicia, a coastal region in northwest Spain.

Hence, empanadas may have traveled across continents, but their fundamental concept—stuffed pastries encasing various fillings—originated in Spain. Over centuries, empanadas diversified globally, incorporating local flavors and ingredients. Despite their international popularity, the Spanish influence remains a cornerstone, marking Spain as the undeniable birthplace of these beloved savory pastries.

Tracing the Influence of Different Culinary Cultures on Spanish Empanadas

Today’s empanadas are rooted in Galicia, a coastal region in northwest Spain. Yet, tracing their evolution step-by-step is essential to know how our dear empanadas have evolved until we recognize them as Spanish.

1. Ancient Roman Traces: First Connection

Though you can’t find any direct evidence of ancient Roman literature specifically mentioning “empanadas” as we know them today, a few references to stuffed pastries can be found in ancient Roman literature. 

World’s earliest ancient Roman cookbook, “Apicius,” believed to have been written in the 4th or 5th century AD, includes a recipe for a stuffed pastry called “pastillum” (plural: “pastella”).

Pastillum was a small pastry typically filled with seasoned meat, fish, or vegetables. The recipe in Apicius shares instructions for the pastry dough and its filling of the mixture of cooked meat, pepper, wine-soaked bread, broth, and various spices. The filled pastries are then advised to be baked or fried.

We agree that these references don’t mention empanadas explicitly, yet they suggest stuffed pastries as a common food in ancient Greece and Rome. So, the chances are that empanadas have evolved from these earlier stuffed pastries.

It’s also worth noting that the word “empanada” comes from the Latin word “impanatura,” which means “to coat in breadcrumbs.” This suggests that empanadas may have originally been coated in breadcrumbs before being baked or fried.

2. Empanadas and the Moorish Influence

The history of empanadas is as rich and diverse as their fillings. One popular belief links their origins to the Moors, Muslim inhabitants of North Africa who settled in Spain during the Middle Ages. While some claim “empanada” stems from the Arabic word “amānada,” meaning “something enclosed,” this linguistic link remains debated.

Instead, “empanada” finds its roots in the Spanish verb “empanar,” signifying “to coat in bread.” This connection to Spain is crucial, given the country’s historical ties with Latin America, where empanadas thrived.

A captivating offshoot of this history is the Empanada Moruna, a pastry that mirrors Moorish influence. Some theories suggest it evolved from the Arabic “fatayer,” a savory pastry filled with minced meat, cheese, or vegetables. Others propose a fusion of Moorish and Spanish elements, with raisins, pine nuts, and ground lamb becoming distinctive features.

Regardless of the exact origin, the Moors undeniably left an indelible mark on Spanish empanadas. Their culinary legacy lives on, woven into the fabric of these beloved, globally adored pastries.

3. Spanning Continents: Empanadas Around the World

Empanadas didn’t confine their allure to Spain; they have captured the taste buds of diverse cultures across the globe. As centuries passed, these delectable pastries found their way to Latin America, where they became an integral part of the culinary landscape. 

Each region embraced empanadas, infusing them with unique local flavors and fillings, creating a mouthwatering array of options. From the spicy minced meat empanadas of Argentina to the sweet fruit-filled versions in Mexico, empanadas have evolved into a versatile dish celebrated worldwide.

4. Empanadas Today: A Culinary Delight for Everyone

Today, empanadas have become a beloved comfort food worldwide, bearing a recognition of Spanish cuisine. You can find them in bustling street markets, cozy family kitchens, and trendy restaurants, each one telling a story of its origin and the people who crafted it. Whether you prefer them baked or fried, savory or sweet, empanadas continue to evolve, embracing new ingredients and creative fillings.


Empanadas are more than just a tasty snack; they represent a rich history of flavors that have traveled across time and cultures. Imagine biting into an empanada – it’s not just food; it’s like taking a delicious journey through history and reaching Spain to compliment it as the ultimate destination of empanadas. 

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Cashmere Muhammad
Cashmere Muhammad

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