Pastelillos Vs Empanadas: Can You Spot These Differences? is reader-supported. When you buy through the links on our site, we may earn a small commission. Read more

The similar appearance and ingredients make people confuse Pastelillos vs Empanadas. However, when checked carefully, they are different in some ways. 

Pastelillos are little turnovers shaped from a thin crust and crimped edges. On the other hand, Empanadas are bigger with a thicker crust and rolled edges.

We will discuss the differences between Empanadas vs Pastelillos right here. Please stay with us until the end to find the better option for your dinner! 

What Are Pastelillos? 

This dish is a miniature Empanada version made by wrapping dough over filling and forking the edges.

However, this cuisine often has a minor adjustment in dough content, giving a yellow hue before and after frying.

Pastelitos is another name for this dish that many people are familiar with. A “Pastelito” is a type of Pastelillo that we will bake instead of frying its pastry dough. 

pastelillos vs empanadas annisarestaurant 1

This dish is a small turnover with crimped edges 

What Are Empanadas? 

This dish is a fried or baked turnover made of dough with a filling. It has gained a lot of popularity in Latin America, the Philippines, and Southern Europe.

The word “empanar” is a Galician word, meaning “coated” or “wrapped” with bread. 

People make this cuisine by folding dough over its filling, including corn, tomato, cheese, meat, and some other ingredients. 

The way eaters serve the dish is different from region to region. For example, Argentinians use it as a main dish or a starter at festivals. Meanwhile, in Belize, people serve it as street food. 

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This dish is a big turnover with rolled edges 

Differences Between Pastelillos Vs Empanadas

You can distinguish Pastelitos vs Empanadas by checking their appearance and cooking methods. Here are some tips for doing it with ease. 


What’s the difference between Pastelitos and Empanadas in their origin? Although they look the same, they do not come from the same place. 

Some people assume that Empanada originated from the northwest of Spain. However, its exact origin still remains unknown. 

A notable cookbook released in 1520 mentions Empanada wrapping fish in French, Arabian, Italian, and Catalan cuisine recipes. Now, this dish is an integral part of Mexican cuisine. 

Meanwhile, Pastelillo originated from Puerto Rice and is still very popular in this country. Food fans across the world love it for its distinctive and authentic flavor. 


The recipes have a crucial component in their dough that distinguishes Pastelito vs Empanada: annatto.

Annatto, also called achiote or roucou, comes from the seeds of the achiote tree. This ingredient makes an orange or yellow food coloring based on carotenoids.

Roucou has a unique nutmeg and pepper aroma and adds a sweet and spicy richness to the cuisine.

The dough mix in Pastelillo contains more annatto powder. As a result, this dish has a little sweeter flavor than Empanada. 

The high content of annatto is also what distinguishes Pastelillo of Puerto Rico from other versions. 

You can learn more about the annatto powder from this video below.

As a result, Pastelillos dough is thinner than Empanada dough. Empanada dough is similar to pie dough, while Pastelillo dough and pasta dough are alike. 


Appearance is another difference between Pastelillos and Empanadas

Pastelillo is a fried small, thin turnover with crimped edges. On the other hand, Empanadas have a bigger and thicker turnover with rolled edges.

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You can tell the difference by checking the size and the edges 


People have discovered different ways to use a variety of contents in Pastelillos vs Empanadillas, ranging from vegetables and meat to fruits. You can change the filling of the two cuisines for a savory or sweet taste.

Many food fans claim that Pastelillo is sweeter because of the dough. It would be much tastier with a sweet content and a wonderful dessert.

On the other hand, this sweet dough may also go with savory fillings to yield a surprisingly appealing taste.

Cooking method

Both dishes are dough and filled with turnovers. However, Pastelillo generally has a sharper edge than Empanada. The chef uses a fork to press the edge of this dish to achieve a unique outer layer.

Although you can bake or deep-fry the dough, baking is more common for Pastelillo, while Empanada is usually deep-fried. 

As a result, if you are confused between Empanadillas vs Pastelillos, check the cooking method to distinguish them. 

pastelillos vs empanadas

You can deep-fry or bake the turnover 

How to make Pastelillo?

  • Mix baking powder, flour, and salt in a big mixing bowl.
  • Use another bowl to mix the shortening and the flour.
  • Use a fork or a pastry cutter to cut the shortening and stir the mixture well with eggs.
  • Pour some water into the mix and stir with a fork. The dough now should be brittle. 
  • Sprinkle the surface with some flour and roll the dough on the surface. 
  • Shape the dough into a ball with your hands. 
  • Knead the ball using your palms. 
  • Keep kneading the dough until it’s smooth and soft. 
  • Make smaller balls, wrap them in plastic, and set them aside for about 30 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough and cut it into a flat, thin circle.
  • Place some picadillo or other ingredients in the center of the circle. 
  • Use your fingertips to wet the edges of the dough and fold it in half. 
  • Use your fingers to pinch the dough, and use your teeth to press the edges.
  • Bake the dough until it turns golden brown. 

How to make Empanada?

  • Mix salt and flour using a food processor. 
  • Add some pulse and butter to the mixture.
  • When the dough turns clumpy, add eggs and milk or water in a small quantity to adjust the dough’s texture.
  • Form two balls from the dough and flatten them with a disk.
  • Roll the dough out into a thin layer and cut out circle shapes. You can use a plate or a round mold to shape the circle.
  • Add filling in the middle of the dough.
  • Seal the dough and ensure that the filling won’t leak during the frying process. 

Comparison table

We have looked at Empanada vs Pastelitos in different aspects. This comparison table will help you summarize their differences. 

Criteria  Pastelillos Empanadas
Origin  Puerto Rico Unknown
Dough The high content of annatto

Similar to pasta dough

Low content of annatto

Similar to pie dough

Appearance Small turnover with crimped edges  Big turnover with rolled edges 
Filling Vegetables, meat, and fruits (but sweeter in general)  Vegetables, meat, and fruits
Cooking method Often baked Often deep-fried 

Frequently Asked Questions  

Here are some common questions people ask regarding the differences between Empanadas vs Pastelitos. Let’s check! 

1. Where is Pastelillos from?

Pastelillo is a Puerto Rican food that has been highly popular. To fans of this cuisine, the aroma of Puerto Rican Pastelillos is the most natural and distinctive.

2. Are Empanadas and Empanadillas the same thing?

Yes. Many people also confuse Empanadillas vs Empanadas. In fact, they often use the name “Empanadas” in Puerto Rico. Some call it “Empanadillas” because this term refers to something crusted and fried, such as the chicken fried steak. 

3. What are Empanadas called in Mexico?

In Mexico, people also call this dish “Empanadas.” In fact, this word originated from a Mexican verb, meaning “coat” or “wrap.”


After checking our analysis of the difference between Empanadas and Pastelitos, we hope you now have enough knowledge to distinguish the two cuisines.

You’re ready to go if you look closer at the size, dough, and cooking method. It’s best to test both of them and decide which is better based on your personal preferences.

If you find this article helpful, share it with your friends. For any further information about Empanada vs Pastelillo, please feel free to ask.

Thank you for reading! 

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