Celebrating Flan: A History of the Beloved Latin Dessert (Plus 4 Great Flan Recipes)

Celebrating FlanWhile many consider flan the quintessential Latin-American dessert, the first flan recipes actually hail from Ancient Rome, nearly two thousand years ago.

The Romans were the first to domesticate chickens, and needed ways to use up this egg surplus. Borrowing a bit of cooking wisdom from their Greek neighbors, they created new egg-based recipes, including the flan, which means “flat cake” in Latin.

The Romans often served flan as a savory dish; one particular delicacy was eel flan. (Yes, eel.) However, a recipe for a sweet honey-flavored flan has been recorded. (Details below).

Fun Flan Fact: In Roman times, the flan was considered to health food and believed to soothe the chest, aid the kidneys and liver, increase fertility, and reduce urinary tract infections.

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Romans shared their flan recipes as they conquered Europe throughout the first few centuries AD. And although the Roman empire fell in 476, the flan survived. Throughout the Medieval Empire (5th-15th Century AD), the recipe was adapted and sweeter versions emerged. It was the Spaniards who first topped theirs with caramel sauce. Fast forward to the 1500s, when Spanish conquistadores first brought the treat when they arrived in Mexico.

The Mexicans took the flan to a new level: creating coffee, chocolate, and coconut flavored versions. The recipes spread throughout Latin-America and many Latin households have their own take on the beloved dessert. Today, there are flans of all flavors: cinnamon, strawberry, pumpkin, orange, the list goes on.

From the simple to the sinful, the sacred to the somewhat healthy, here are a four fabulous flan recipes—each tried, tested, and tasted by yours truly:

The Simple Flan: Goya Flan Recipe
For any simple, foolproof Latin recipe, I default to Goya, whose standard recipe sweet, velvety flan never disappoints. When the first ingredient is coconut milk and the second ingredient is heavy cream, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. And the recipe is right on the back of the can! Though if you are really, really not a fan of the kitchen, Goya does make a Flan with Caramel Mix. (Yes, from the box. No, you didn’t hear it from me.)

The Sinful Flan: Cheesecake Flan by Ingrid Hoffmann
This is divine dessert recipe combines two of the sweetest inventions of all time: flan and cheesecake. This decadent cheesecake flan recipe comes from the Colombian-American host of the Food Network’s popular show, Simply Delicioso. Check out Ingrid Hoffmann’s page on the Food Network website for more of her Latin-inspired recipes.

The Sacred Flan: The Original Roman Flan Recipe from the First Roman Cookbook
This recipe comes the first cookbook in the Roman World, De Re Coquinaria, Liber Vii. Written the first century AD by a wealthy Roman, Apicius, this book contains one of the few sweet flan recipes from the Roman empire. At the end it calls for a sprinkling of pepper , as was standard in almost all Roman dishes. I tried it and it’s…interesting.