The Arepa (ə-‘rā-pə) is perhaps the most representative element in Venezuelan cuisine. The arepa is multipurpose as it is used as an appetizer, a side dish or a main dish. Arepas can be prepared for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. The arepa varies in cooking technique, main ingredient, color and filling depending on the region of the country where its prepared.
The main ingredient for arepas in its basic form is corn. In the beginning, corn was grinded using a mortar to create the corn meal mix to make arepas. Then came the pre-cooked version of the corn meal, which made the whole process much easier. The most common and internationally recognized brand of Venezuelan pre-cooked white corn meal is the P.A.N. brand, which we simply call “Harina PAN” (PAN flour). GOYA makes another version called “Masarepa”. Another option is MASECA, which makes “Masa Instantanea de Maíz” (Instant corn masa flour).
Maseca can probably be found either in the flour isle or the ethnic/Mexican food isle at any supermarket. The Goya version, Masarepa, would most likely only be found in Latin American or Mexican mini markets. Harina PAN, unfortunately, can only be found in supermarkets that are near a big population of Venezuelans in the US (like Weston, Florida); in Venezuelan supermarkets or through the Internet. However, I do have to say I found Harina PAN in a little Mexican market located on Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery, Alabama. Perhaps you guys can share any other places you have found Harina PAN. Harina PAN can be found online too, just Google it and several online stores that deliver through the US will come up. I found this one.
The name for the Arepa came from the word “erepa”, which in the native Indian tribe’s dialect of the Cumanagoto People means “corn”. These “Cumanagotos” made arepas in a disk shaped form (much like other corn mix products like Cachapas or tortillas, and even their cooking tools like the budare or comal) to worship the sun and the moon.
Now, arepas are so varied in their aspects that it is good to mention some of the most common ones. One of my favorites, the sweet one, “Arepa Dulce” or “Arepa de Anís”, has sugar and “Anís” (Anise or Pimpinella Anisum – seeds), it is very thin and when fried one side will end up like a bubble separating the skin from the inside dough, great with a very salty cheese. Arepas can be baked, grilled, fried or boiled. With technology now we have what I call the “Toasted Arepa” which is created very easily with the “Tostiarepa” a toaster made specifically to make arepas. Yes, it makes arepas even easier to make than they already are, but to me, they come out very “fat” and the crust could be sometimes too crispy. Only one of these will fill you up quickly. Keep an eye out for arepa recipe coming soon.
UPDATED (Where to Buy Harina PAN): Yesterday I was shopping at the Winn Dixie on Eastern Boulevard & Vaughn Road in Montgomery, Alabama and I happened to see Harina PAN on the International Food isle, next to the Mexican products. I was looking for the expiration date on the package and I noticed right underneath the expiration date stamp it states “Imported by Goya Foods Inc”. It is made by Empresas Polar (Large Venezuelan Company), but these ones I found where produced in the Alimentos Polar headquarters in Colombia. Also states “Very low gluten”, which was not the case in the packages being imported from Venezuela. Just though I’d let you know what I found. Each package cost $3.29. *I think maybe Goya will start to import this product to other locations soon, and hopefully on their website as well.
UPDATE (Harina P. A. N., Gluten and GMO): There have been a lot of responses to this post and questions regarding wether Harina P. A. N. contains gluten and if it is elaborated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). I took it upon myself to contact Empresas Polar/Alimentos Polar (the company responsible for creating and distributing Harina P. A. N.), and I have asked them these questions. I received an answer and what they said was that as you can see in all the Harina P. A. N. packages in circulation today, they have added de disclaimer which states that “it may contain traces of wheat and/or oats”. This means that the corn flours and the flour mixes made under the P. A. N. brand may contain traces of gluten because it is elaborated in a factory where other cereals like oatmeal and wheat are processed. The Harina P. A. N. made for exporting (which would be the one found anywhere else other than Venezuela), are elaborated in their factories in Colombia, where they process other cereals as well, and thus, just like the Venezuelan product, it is NOT GLUTEN FREE. They explained that they are NOT over the 100 milligrams of gluten per kilograms of the product, but they are also not under the 20 milligrams per kilograms, and that is why they have to add the disclaimer.
Furthermore, they have informed me that Harina P. A. N. produced in Colombia and exported to many other countries, is produced with corn that IS GENETICALLY MODIFIED, which has been approved in Europe and the United States. They also explain that the genetic modifications in the corn are so that they don’t waste crops due to bugs and such, and also to increment the yield in the crop of the corn. They also explained that te international food security agencies responsible for evaluating the risks in food products, have established that those crops do no represent any harm whatsoever to your health and they are as safe as corn that has not been genetically modified.
I have to say that this information was given to me by Empresas Polar, and that it is ultimately up to you to decide wether you wish to consume or if it is safe for you to consume Harina P. A. N. which may contain traces of gluten and that is fabricated with genetically modified corn.