Churros: The Hidden History
As the height of carnival season comes to a close, millions of North Americans like me will soon have to greet our old winter coats and say a reluctant, albeit temporary, "adiós" to a favorite summertime treat—the churro.
You see, while the churro may enjoy a year round love affair with Latin Americans, Spaniards and residents of the southern states, those of us who endure snowy winters only get a taste of this sugar-sprinkled fried pastry during the warmer months at festivals, fairgrounds, and amusement parks.
Enjoying churros only as a snack on the street is not traditionally accurate though. Fresh churros are also meant to be savored for breakfast, dipped into thick hot chocolate or served with café con leche. This sounds like the perfect indulgence after a hard day of raking leaves or shoveling snow, so Ferris wheel or no Ferris wheel, I've decided that I'll be making my own churros to enjoy with the family over the colder months ahead.
While I researched recipes (there's a good one here if you want to give it a try), I also read up on the churro's controversial past.
History is divided on how exactly churros came to exist. Some say they were the invention of nomadic Spanish shepherds. Living high in the mountains with no access to bakeries, the Spanish shepherds supposedly created churros, which were easy for them to cook in frying pans over fire. Lending credibility to this version of history is the fact that there exists a breed of sheep called the "Navajo-Churro", which are descended from the "Churra" sheep of the Iberian Peninsula; the horns of these sheep look similar to the fried pastry.
Another story says that Portuguese sailors discovered a similar food in Northern China called "You Tiao" and they brought it back with them. The Spanish learned of the new culinary treat from their neighbors, and put their own spin on it by passing the dough through a star-shaped tip which gives the churro its signature ridges.
Whether Spanish shepherds, Portuguese sailors or the Chinese get the credit for inventing the churro, it was the conquistadors who introduced them to Latin America. Since then, the modern day churro has undergone various reincarnations including guava-filled churros in Cuba, dulce de leche-filled churros in Mexico and a cheese-filled version in Uruguay.
Straight or spiral-shaped, with or without a dusting of cinnamon and sugar, dipped in chocolate or straight out of a greasy paper bag on the street, churros, in all their creative variations, will continue to be one of my summertime favorites – and with a recipe in hand, maybe a wintertime favorite, too.
WATCH & LEARN ABOUT 'SALINAS CHURROS TRUCK' IN ECHO PARK, CA:
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the DC Metro area and the founder of Latinaish.com.