Difference Between Empanadas and Pastelitos

Difference Between Empanadas and Pastelitos Featured Image

In the realm of Latin American cuisine, two names stand out when we talk about popular pastries – empanadas and pastelitos. Both offer a delightful culinary experience with their distinctive features, fillings, and flavor profiles. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or simply someone keen to learn more about global cuisines, understanding the specifics of these pastries can offer a deeper appreciation for Latin American food culture. This article delves into a comprehensive comparison of empanadas and pastelitos, evaluating their characteristics, highlighting their similarities and differences, and weighing their pros and cons.


An empanada is a type of baked or fried turnover consisting of pastry and filling, common in Southern European, Latin American, and Filipino cultures. The name comes from the Spanish verb ’empanar’, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. Empanadas are made by folding a dough or bread patty around a stuffing. The stuffing can consist of a variety of ingredients, including meats, cheeses, vegetables, and fruits, depending on regional tastes and traditions.


Pastelitos are a type of pastry widely consumed in Spain and Latin American countries. They come in a variety of forms and can be sweet or savory. The term ‘pastelito’ is a diminutive of ‘pastel’, the Spanish word for cake, and it essentially means ‘small cake’. The ingredients, size, shape, and preparation methods can vary widely depending on the region and specific variety of pastelito. They can be stuffed with meats, cheese, fruits, or sweet fillings like custard or guava paste. They can be baked or fried.

Key differences between Empanadas and Pastelitos

  1. Origin and Spread: Empanadas originate from Spain and Portugal and are popular in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. On the other hand, pastelitos, while also originating from Spain, are more commonly associated with Latin American countries.
  2. Size and Shape: Empanadas are typically larger and have a half-moon shape. Pastelitos are usually smaller and can come in various shapes, often squares or rectangles.
  3. Pastry Type: Empanadas generally have a thicker crust, which can be made from wheat flour, cornmeal, or even plantains in some regions. Pastelitos, meanwhile, often have a lighter, flakier pastry, more similar to French puff pastry.
  4. Cooking Method: Both pastries can be baked or fried. However, empanadas are more commonly baked in many regions, while pastelitos can frequently be found in fried versions.
  5. Filling: While both can have a wide range of fillings, savory fillings are more common in empanadas. Pastelitos, on the other hand, are often associated with sweet fillings, although savory versions also exist.
  6. Serving Context: Empanadas are often served as a main dish or substantial snack due to their size and hearty fillings. Pastelitos, due to their size and often sweet fillings, are frequently served as desserts or small snacks.
  7. Cultural Variations: There are many regional variations of both empanadas and pastelitos. However, empanadas have a more universally recognized form, while pastelitos can vary more significantly between regions.
  8. Dough Preparation: The dough of empanadas is usually simple and unleavened, while pastelitos often use a laminated dough, similar to puff pastry, that results in a flaky texture when cooked.

Key similarities between Empanadas and Pastelitos

  1. Pastry-Based: Both empanadas and pastelitos are types of pastries, meaning they consist of a casing of dough with a filling inside.
  2. Versatility of Fillings: Both these dishes can have a wide variety of fillings, both sweet and savory, depending on regional variations and personal preference.
  3. Cultural Significance: Both empanadas and pastelitos hold significant cultural importance in their respective regions. They are often associated with celebrations, festivals, and family gatherings.
  4. Cooking Methods: Both empanadas and pastelitos can be either baked or fried, depending on the specific recipe and regional preferences.
  5. Origins: Both pastries have roots in Spanish cuisine and have been spread and adapted throughout the world, particularly in Latin America, by Spanish and Portuguese exploration and colonization.
  6. Consumption Time: Both empanadas and pastelitos can be consumed at any time of day, from breakfast to dinner, and as snacks in between.
  7. Handheld Nature: Both pastries are typically small enough to be eaten by hand, making them convenient for on-the-go consumption.
  8. Use of Dough: In both empanadas and pastelitos, the dough serves not just as a casing, but also contributes significantly to the overall flavor and texture of the dish.

Pros of Empanadas over Pastelitos

  1. Filling Variety: Empanadas offer a diverse range of fillings, both savory and sweet, providing an option for virtually every palate. Their hearty fillings often make them a more substantial meal compared to pastelitos.
  2. Meal Versatility: Given their size and hearty fillings, empanadas can serve as a main dish, a snack, or even breakfast, offering more meal versatility than pastelitos.
  3. Crust Consistency: The thicker crust of an empanada can provide a more satisfying textural contrast with the soft fillings.
  4. Ease of Preparation: The dough for empanadas is often simpler and less time-consuming to prepare than the laminated dough often used for pastelitos.
  5. Cultural Adaptability: Empanadas have been adopted and adapted by a wide variety of cultures across the globe, resulting in a broad spectrum of unique flavors and variations.
  6. Nutritional Value: Depending on the filling, empanadas can offer a more balanced nutritional profile, with a good mix of proteins, carbs, and vegetables, compared to the often sweet-focused pastelitos.
  7. Portability: The half-moon shape of an empanada makes it easy to hold and eat on the go, possibly making it a more convenient option for a quick meal or snack.

Cons of Empanadas compared to Pastelitos

  1. Caloric Content: Empanadas, especially when fried and filled with meat or cheese, can be higher in calories compared to many types of pastelitos.
  2. Preparation Time: Empanadas, due to their larger size and more substantial fillings, can take longer to prepare than pastelitos.
  3. Texture Variation: Pastelitos, especially those made with laminated dough, offer a flakier texture that some might prefer over the denser crust of empanadas.
  4. Sweet Tooth Appeal: For those with a sweet tooth, pastelitos, which are often filled with sweet ingredients like fruit or custard, may be more appealing.
  5. Refinement: The delicate and often intricate preparation of pastelitos can be seen as more refined or elegant, making them a popular choice for parties or formal gatherings.
  6. Variety in Form: Pastelitos offer more variety in form and presentation due to their diverse shapes and sizes.
  7. Dietary Restrictions: For those with certain dietary restrictions, the typically lighter and smaller pastelitos may be a more suitable choice. This, of course, depends on the specific type of pastelito and its ingredients.

Pros of Pastelitos over Empanadas

  1. Sweet Varieties: Pastelitos are often available in sweet varieties, making them a popular choice for desserts or sweet snacks.
  2. Lighter Option: Given their often smaller size and sweet fillings, pastelitos can provide a lighter eating option compared to the more substantial empanadas.
  3. Variety of Shapes: Pastelitos come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which can make for a visually appealing assortment.
  4. Texture: The laminated dough used in many types of pastelitos results in a flaky, light texture that can be particularly enjoyable.
  5. Faster Cooking Time: Depending on the recipe, pastelitos can often be cooked more quickly than empanadas due to their smaller size.
  6. Pairing with Coffee: Sweet pastelitos can be an ideal pairing with coffee for a traditional Latin American breakfast or snack.
  7. Elegance: Pastelitos, with their delicate, flaky pastry and often sweet fillings, can add a touch of elegance to a meal or event.

Cons of Pastelitos compared to Empanadas

  1. Less Filling: Pastelitos are typically smaller and lighter than empanadas, which may not be as satisfying for those looking for a more substantial meal.
  2. Sugar Content: Sweet pastelitos can have high sugar content, which might not be suitable for those watching their sugar intake.
  3. Dough Complexity: The dough for pastelitos, particularly versions using laminated dough, can be more complex and time-consuming to prepare than that for empanadas.
  4. Lack of Protein: Unless they’re filled with meat or cheese, many pastelitos don’t provide as much protein as empanadas typically do.
  5. Portability: While still portable, the flaky nature of many pastelitos can make them a bit messier to eat on the go compared to empanadas.
  6. Serving Options: Pastelitos are often seen as a dessert or snack option, while empanadas can be more versatile, serving as a snack, main dish, or even breakfast.
  7. Variety of Fillings: While pastelitos can have a variety of fillings, they tend to offer fewer savory options compared to empanadas.

Situations when Empanadas are better than Pastelitos

  1. Lunch or Dinner: When you need a hearty, fulfilling meal, empanadas with their generous size and diverse fillings can serve as a substantial lunch or dinner option.
  2. Protein-Rich Meal: If you’re looking for a pastry with a high protein content, empanadas often have meat or cheese fillings that can offer this benefit.
  3. Traveling or Picnics: Due to their robust structure and less flaky dough, empanadas can be a great option for travel or picnic food as they’re less likely to crumble.
  4. Balanced Diet: If you aim to have a balanced intake of carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables, empanadas, especially those filled with meat and vegetables, can help achieve this better than sweet pastelitos.
  5. On-The-Go Eating: If you need a quick meal that you can eat on the go without too much mess, the easy-to-hold empanada is a better choice.
  6. Crowd Feeding: If you’re hosting a party or event and need to feed a large crowd, the larger, filling empanadas can be a more cost-effective and satisfying choice.
  7. Cooking Convenience: If you’re making them at home, empanadas may be easier to prepare, especially for beginners, as their dough is typically less complicated than the laminated dough of many pastelitos.

Also Read: Difference Between Scotch Bonnet and Habanero

Situations when Pastelitos are better than Empanadas

  1. Dessert Course: If you’re searching for a sweet finish to a meal, sweet pastelitos can serve as an excellent dessert option.
  2. Breakfast Treat: When paired with a cup of coffee, sweet pastelitos can provide a delightful breakfast or mid-morning snack.
  3. Light Snacking: If you’re looking for a lighter snack that won’t fill you up too much, the smaller pastelitos can be a better option.
  4. Formal Gatherings: Pastelitos, particularly those with sweet fillings, can add a touch of elegance to formal gatherings or parties.
  5. Baking with Kids: If you’re baking with kids, the typically smaller and faster-cooking pastelitos can be a more engaging and less time-consuming option.
  6. Sweet Tooth Satisfaction: If you’re craving a sweet treat, pastelitos with fruit or sweet cream fillings can be a better choice than the often savory empanadas.
  7. Culinary Experimentation: If you’re a seasoned cook and looking to try your hand at more complex pastry techniques, the laminated dough of many pastelitos can offer a challenging and rewarding experience.

Empanadas vs Pastelitos Summary

Empanadas and pastelitos, despite originating from the same broad culinary tradition, offer unique and distinct experiences in terms of taste, texture, and functionality. Their differences make each a star in their respective situations, while their similarities highlight the shared cultural heritage of Latin American cuisine. Choosing between them can depend on a variety of factors including meal type, personal preferences, dietary needs, and culinary curiosity. Regardless of your choice, both empanadas and pastelitos provide a wonderful way to enjoy and appreciate the diverse world of Latin American pastries.

Base DoughThicker, often cornmeal or wheat basedFlaky, often laminated dough
Common FillingsMeat, cheese, vegetables, occasionally sweet fillingsSweet fillings like fruit or cream, occasionally savory fillings
Meal TypeVersatile, can be main meal, snack or breakfastOften dessert or snack
Serving SizeLarger, more fillingSmaller, lighter
PreparationRelatively simple dough, diverse fillingsCan have complex laminated dough, simpler fillings
ProsHearty, filling, adaptable, portableSweet, light, variety of shapes, fast cooking time
ConsCan be high in calories, longer preparation timeLess filling, high sugar content, more complex dough
Best for SituationLunch or dinner, protein-rich meal, traveling or picnics, on-the-go eatingDessert, breakfast treat, light snacking, formal gatherings
SimilaritiesBoth are types of pastries, often baked or fried, come in many variations, part of Latin American cuisineBoth are types of pastries, often baked or fried, come in many variations, part of Latin American cuisine
DifferencesMore savory, often larger, portable, meal versatilityMore sweet, often smaller, greater variety of shapes, flaky texture
Empanadas vs Pastelitos Summary


Can empanadas and pastelitos be made vegan or vegetarian?

Absolutely! Both empanadas and pastelitos can be tailored to fit a vegan or vegetarian diet. Empanadas can be filled with a variety of plant-based ingredients like beans, corn, spinach, or other vegetables. Likewise, pastelitos can use fruit or vegan-friendly cream fillings. The dough for both can also be made without animal products, replacing butter with plant-based alternatives and using water instead of egg for sealing the pastry.

Can you freeze empanadas and pastelitos?

Yes, both empanadas and pastelitos can be frozen, making them a great make-ahead option. It’s usually best to freeze them after they’ve been assembled but before they’re baked or fried. To cook, they can be transferred directly from the freezer to the oven or fryer, just remember to adjust cooking times as necessary.

Are there gluten-free options for empanadas and pastelitos?

Yes, both empanadas and pastelitos can be made with gluten-free flour for those with dietary restrictions. It’s important to check that the other ingredients used, particularly in the fillings, are also gluten-free. The texture and taste may vary slightly from versions made with traditional wheat flour, but with the right recipe, they can be just as delicious.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Diff Pages
Scroll to Top