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The Story of Sofrito (What’s Recaito, Again?)

A blend of onions, peppers, garlic, culantro and other ingredients, this sauce—and its green sibling that begins with an “r”—defines el sabor de la isla.

Sofrito is a staple in many Puerto Rican and Latinx kitchens and a flavorful ingredient for many home cooks—island to mainland. 

In July 2020, millions of Latinx home cooks had their hearts broken by Goya Gate, causing many to break up with their pantry. But don’t let the flavor stop just because you’ve put down your branded sazón or sofrito. 

Here’s what you need to know about el sabor (or, rather, los sabores) de la isla, because sofrito has a cousin: recaito. How do they differ? Glad you asked.

The Difference Between Sofrito and Recaito

Sofrito is a savory sauce blend of mostly aromatics, including (depending on who’s making it): onions, green pepper, aji dulce, tomato, garlic, olive oil, culantro and/or cilantro, and other spices. It is used to flavor dishes like soups, asopaos and arroz con pollo. 

But wait, you might be thinking, don’t you mean recaito? Not quite. 

Recaito is a culantro-based sauce made with onions and garlic. Its name from recao, another name for the herb culantro, a longer-leaf botanical cousin of Latinx MVP herb cilantro. They can be substituted for each other, though culantro tastes stronger: adjust accordingly. So while one (sofrito) is reddish-green and the other (recaito) is super-green, both play a significant role in Puerto Rican kitchens. Like another Boricua-defining dish, arroz con pollo—a Caribbean cousin of paella—sofrito’s roots also begin in Span, but iterations of the sauce can be found across Europe and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Is Sofrito Like Sazón?

No. Sofrito is wet and sazón is dry. But, yes, sofrito and sazón are both key to making sure your food is well seasoned and as savory as your favorite abuela recipe. 

The tl;dr version of it is that sofrito (and recaito) are used as the base of a dish, which means it can make or break the end result. For example, with arroz con pollo, sofrito or recaito could be added not only to brighten the color of the rice, but to also heighten the flavor of the chicken. 

Sazón is a Spanish-style seasoning mix of spices used to season proteins like chicken, fish and beef. It typically includes: cumin, coriander, garlic powder, oregano, achiotte, salt and black pepper. Technically, you could season the chicken with sazón and add sofrito to your rice base but that is a very personal decision that varies from family recipe to family recipe.

If one is not a seasoning you’ve used, it’s not the end of the world. Or mix it up and add more than one: After all, no one ever got mad about a little extra flavor, right? 

Ready, Set, Sofrito!

Aside from serving as a base for many foods, sofrito or recaito can be used as a salsa or sauté, with many home cooks opting to freezing a big batch of sofrito for future use. 

If you’ve never cooked with sofrito, bring out the blender and give it a try with our throwback (way-throwback) recipe for sofrito, circa 1957 from the Puerto Rican kitchen-classic cookbook, Cocina Criolla

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