5 Must-Have Ingredients for Cooking Puerto Rican Food

by Melanie Edwards on April 1, 2009 · 44 comments

in Puerto Rico

There are some very essential ingredients when it comes to cooking Puerto Rican food. They make up what’s called sofrito.

Now…the term sofrito is used a bit interchangeably because it refers to both the overall mixture of these ingredients as well as a specific item.

Either way, we use sofrito (the overall mixture) for just about everything we cook. It’s used in yellow rice, beans, stews, soups, and pretty much anything that is cooked in a sauce.

It’s a staple.

5 Must-Have Ingredients for Cooking Puerto Rican Food

1. Sofrito or Recaito

Goya Sofrito

Like I said, sofrito can also be a specific item. Many people make their own sofrito by blending various peppers and herbs in a food processor. However, us modern mamis buy the bottled or frozen version. Goya sofrito comes in both. At least in the supermarket.

Sometimes I buy recaito instead of sofrito. It’s basically the same thing and many of the ingredients overlap. They serve the same purpose. Again, Goya recaito comes both in a bottle and frozen.

2. Sazón

Sazón is a blend of different seasonings and spices and also has achiote in it. Achiote (or annatto) is what gives our food the orange-y color. Sometimes half a packet is all you need.

3. Adobo

Adobo replaces the salt and pepper combo in a Puerto Rican kitchen. We do not season our meats with salt and pepper. Instead, we use adobo. And, please for the love of all that is right, DO season BOTH sides of the meat. I can’t for the life of me understand why you would want to eat meat that tastes good on one side only.

4. Tomato Sauce & Tomato Paste

Tomato sauce adds some more coloring and gives a great flavoring to the gravy/sauce. It also helps to give texture, along with…

Tomato paste goes right along with tomato sauce. You can’t really have one without the other (which is why together they count as one item). The tomato paste definitely adds a thicker consistency to the sauce.

5. Green Olives

I was told by a former co-worker once that she loves to eat olives, but would have never thought to cook with them. Just a couple of olives in the rice or beans adds a great flavor.

And there you have it. Five ingredients that are used in everyday Puerto Rican cooking and make-up our base seasoning for nearly all dishes.

*Please note that you don’t have to get Goya; there are other brands out there. I just couldn’t find them to showcase.*

Have you ever had or cooked any Puerto Rican dishes? Which are your favorite(s)?

All images from Amazon.com.

Be Sociable, Share!
1 Miss Britt April 1, 2009 at 6:47 am

i have NO idea what Puerto Rican food is. I mean, I know what it IS – but have no concept of what it tastes like.

Clearly, you need to cook for me.

2 Onise February 8, 2015 at 10:23 am

if you like to cook, many of our recipes are simple and ingredients can be found in any supermarket. Be adventurous and try. Our food is not spicy (like Mexican food) but very flavorful.

3 afroqueen81 September 6, 2015 at 9:44 pm

Afroqueen81 found on you tube and other places on the Internet. .
It’s not hard to cook any kind these days because they can be

4 Melanie (Modern Mami) April 1, 2009 at 6:50 am

You AND Shari apparently. But, it’s way on the other spectrum of low-carb. As in, NOT AT ALL.

5 Brenda Rivera April 29, 2009 at 1:35 am

I just would like to say that Im Puerto Rican,and I love Puerto Rican food.I love Puert Rico,Its a pretty island.Te Amo Puerto Rico. Im an Puerto Rican Princess.

6 Melanie (Modern Mami) April 29, 2009 at 6:47 am

@Brenda Rivera, Gracias Brenda! So glad you stopped by to show your pride. 🙂

7 Jennifer, Playgroups are no place for children May 4, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I have never made Puerto Rican food before. I’m doing a series on my blog where my husband and I try food from the International aisle at the grocery store, though, and I’m definitely going to have to try some Puerto Rican recipes!

8 Melanie (Modern Mami) May 8, 2009 at 7:02 am

@Jennifer, Playgroups are no place for children, Let me know if you want some ideas for dishes to begin with. You’re going to love it!

9 rachel-asouthernfairytale May 7, 2009 at 10:56 pm


Love all of that. I use Adobo, too.

10 Melanie (Modern Mami) May 8, 2009 at 7:05 am

@rachel-asouthernfairytale, That’s great Rachel! What type of dishes do you use adobo for? Btw, I still have to try that grilled cheese w/ bacon & spinach you recently posted about. It sounds divine.

11 mamafish January 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I had the priviledge of living in Puerto Rico for a year while my husband was stationed at Rhamey AFB. We lived on the economy and loved getting to know the people there. I learned to love the beans and rice they made there (red sauce). The neighbors would bring me a jar of the sauce but would never teach me how to make it. I would love to learn even now and it has been 42 years since I lived there. I have been trying to find out what was in the sauce by talking to people from Puerto Rico or those who had lived there. Anyone willing to teach me? Lois

12 Melanie (ModernMami) January 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm

@mamafish, That red sauce is what I described as “sofrito” in the post above. Basically, those same ingredients I listed in this post, make up sofrito. Sofrito is made of: oil, vinegar, sazon, tomato sauce, tomato paste, recaito/sofrito, and olives. Hope that helps!

13 Jasmineandrade13 November 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

muy bien

14 Jasmineandrade13 November 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm

my  mi amor es puerto rican asi i see nd taste his mas food all the time and im cape verdean so yeah so i think i kinda no in a way tasted spanish food

15 Helena November 24, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Puerto Rican food is equivalent to Soul food in the U.S. in terms of calories and immense flavor; however, it is derived from Spanish origins with a mix of Caribbean ingredients. I’m Hawaiian and my husband is Puerto Rican, so we eat a mixture of both Islands. Yummy!

16 beenthere January 1, 2015 at 2:08 am

Salty & greasy. Poor ppl food (rice, beans, pork, bananas). DAILY!! Veg is usually corn from a can.

17 Melanie Edwards January 3, 2015 at 8:47 pm

It’s unfortunate that you consider rice, beans, meat and vegetables poor people food. They’re all full of nutrition and a staple in many cultures – not just Puerto Rican culture!

18 Jake March 12, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I take it as a compament the ppf

19 Margarita Santiago September 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Racist much ? Wow !

20 Michelle January 19, 2015 at 7:15 pm

This dish is my sons favorite. A very dear friend that has passed away would always make it for him and put in extra olives. She tried to teach me how to make it, I don’t know what I do wrong but it always came out mushy. She didn’t measure it was all by eye. I am going to try your recipe and see if I can do it. The best part is the hard rice on the bottom of the pan 🙂 Can you recommend a type of rice. My husband being Japanese loves short grain sticky rice. I know that rice is not good for this recipe.

21 Melanie Edwards January 31, 2015 at 8:33 pm

Michelle, just look for medium or long grain rice.

22 Onise February 8, 2015 at 10:21 am

I have tried to introduce Puerto Rican cuisine to most of my non-Puerto Rican friends and co-workers for many years. Unless you are familiar with the many restaurants in New York City that sell PR food, it is not a cuisine that is mainstream, like Italian, Chinese, etc. Considering that Puerto Ricans are Americans by birth our many delicious and varied dishes are not truly incorporated into our melting pot society.
More’s the pity, since our staple food (although not low in carbs) is very healthy. Rice and beans (complete protein containing all the amino acids and heart healthy) and considering the nutrition, low cost.
More importantly, our food is DELICIOUS. Varied in flavor, texture and aromas to entice even the most discerning (picky) eater. My mouth waters just thinking about all our dishes.

23 Melanie Edwards February 10, 2015 at 9:11 pm

Onise, I agree that our food is delicious. It’s not as known as other Latin American food, but perhaps we’ll start changing that a bit. 😉

24 Jake March 12, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Do you have an authentic recipe for pork tenderloin or a good website I can look at

25 Melanie Edwards March 12, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Do you mean pernil (pork shoulder)? I don’t have one up – yet! – but, hope this one helps: http://savvymujer.com/recipe-pernil-roast-pork-puerto-rican-style/

26 Melissa Cotto April 2, 2015 at 5:27 pm

I just had a conversation with a coworker about how to make arroz con gandules. Another coworker also Puerto Rican interrupted my explanation saying you don’t have to use tomatoe sauce. Now my American coworker has no idea who’s rice would be more authentic. So my question is have you ever come across any Puerto Rican, Cuban or Dominican who does not use tomato sauce or paste?

27 Melanie Edwards April 7, 2015 at 3:45 pm

I can’t speak for Cuban or Dominican cooking, but I’ve not come across any Puerto Rican household that doesn’t cook their yellow rice with either tomato sauce or tomato paste (or both). Some people use fresh tomatoes instead of the sauce or paste, or use a pre-made sofrito with tomatoes in it. Perhaps your coworker was referring to that?

28 Tony April 7, 2015 at 4:55 pm

All of the above plus Garlic and Goya olive oil

29 Abuelita sabrosa November 14, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Love Arroz con gandules. I prefer to make my own sofrito… No more SAZON -stay away from MSG. I give it the best of my own SAZON, herbs, species. Buen provecho.

30 Melanie Edwards November 16, 2015 at 11:41 am

Buen provecho, abuelita! 😉

31 Missing Great food January 28, 2016 at 8:09 pm

Lived in NewYork all my life, now in Georgia –truly missed Puerto Rican food. Glad we have the 5 main ingredients and making the soup for after Church fellowship. Yummy, yum yum

32 Melanie Edwards February 2, 2016 at 9:05 pm

Nothing like comfort food, especially when away from home. Enjoy!

33 Nicole May 12, 2016 at 8:53 pm

I’m all American and grew up eating steaks and potatoes. I’ve now married a Puerto Rican and have 4 beautiful kids. I want to cook more Puerto Rican cuisine for them and I’m trying. Any recipe recommendations for beginners? Thanks!

34 Melanie Edwards May 13, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Hi Nicole! I would try yellow rice (easy to make), stewed chicken, chicken soup, and other easy meats. Most of our cooking is simple, but full of flavor. Feel free to browse our Puerto Rican category for recipe ideas!

35 david henry August 11, 2016 at 6:44 am

hi, i cant seem to find the recipe for rice and beans. could you post a link to that? i grew up in brooklyn, ny.; rice and beans are something i crave, but there are no such places around my area of utica. i also love pegau. (sp??) i have tried my best to make arroz con gandules verde. omg, i’m starving now!!!.

36 Melanie Edwards August 17, 2016 at 8:33 am

Hi David! I haven’t (yet) shared my beans recipe, but here are the recipes for both white rice and arroz con gandules that I have previously shared. 🙂 Enjoy!

37 Melanie Edwards August 26, 2016 at 10:52 am

David, here is the (newly) posted recipe for red beans! http://www.modernmami.com/recipes/puerto-rican-red-beans-recipe/

38 david henry August 11, 2016 at 6:50 am

i remember “tonita”, the name of the mother of one family, used to put pork chops or chicken in a bowl with onion, vinegar and black pepper, to sit over night, and fry the next meal. wow!! i cant recall if oil was in the mixture. mmmm chuletas y pollo frito!!MMMMM

39 Melanie Edwards August 17, 2016 at 8:33 am

Sounds delicious!!!

40 Melinda Feliciano February 2, 2017 at 11:48 am

Parents are both from Puerto Rico, I born and raised USA! Always cooked together with Love and I’ve learned to make their version of Arroz con Gandules with the same passion. My homemade Sofrito includes oregano, onion, sweet pepper and cilantro, since it’s hard to get fresh ajices and culantro! But thankful for the products that you can find frozen or bottled! Thanks for sharing! SW Detroit

41 Melanie Edwards February 8, 2017 at 11:08 am

That’s so great! Glad you’ve found a way to keep the traditions going. 🙂

42 Megan Singh March 6, 2017 at 7:14 pm

That’s a disgusting comment. “Poor people food” why bother coming on this blog if you have no interest in cooking the food. Apparently you’re just bitter and miserable. Sorry your life sucks that bad. I will pray for you. And btw if it came out salty you clearly don’t know how to cook. And also, beenthere* seems like you know it all and have a closed mind. What exactly is rich people food???? Pasta???

43 ethalfrida April 18, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I have a question. Why do so many recipes call for both Adobo and Sazon? They mostly contain the same seasonings. I had Puerto Rican pork roast one time and it was so good I have not forgotten it. So I am just curious as to the reason behind the seasoning.

44 Melanie Edwards April 19, 2017 at 12:49 pm

The ingredients vary a little bit, but I’m guessing the main reason for including sazón is for the color that comes from the annatto in it.

Previous post:

Next post: