Food Time

Fried and Fantastic: The Evolution of Churros

From the streets of Spain to the shelves of Costco, churros have become a beloved treat enjoyed by people across cultures. Their crunchy, fried dough knots dusted with cinnamon and sugar have a universal appeal that has turned them into a global phenomenon.

Churros trace their origin back to 16th century Spain, where they were sold by street vendors known as “churreros.” Their precursor is believed to be the Chinese youtiao or the Portuguese malasada, which were brought over with the Portuguese colonial expansions. The churro was modified into a thinner pastry with star-shaped ridges, which allowed street vendors to feed many people quickly. Over time, churros spread beyond Spain to Latin America as well as the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. Each culture added its own twist, developing unique churro variations and dipping sauces.

The traditional churro preparation involves a simple dough made of flour, water and salt that is squeezed through a piping bag into hot oil to fry. The churro dough can also be extruded through a churrera, a device with a star-shaped nozzle that gives churros their iconic ridged look. Once golden brown, they are tossed in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. The end result is a crispy and crunchy pastry on the outside with a soft, airy center.

While the classic churro is served plain, many cultures have created their own delicious variations. Fillings like dulce de leche, chocolate, cream or fruit preserves are sometimes injected into hollow churros for a sweet surprise. Ice cream churro sandwiches are also popular, with ice cream nestled between two fried churros. Churrerias in Mexico often coat their churros in chocolate or cajeta. In the Philippines, churros are made with grated cheese fillings. Creative flavors like ube, matcha and chocolate churros have become trendy offerings.

Churros are best enjoyed piping hot, fresh from the fryer. They can be dipped in condiments like chocolate sauce, dulce de leche or cajeta to complement the cinnamon-sugar coating. A cup of rich Spanish hot chocolate is the quintessential partner for churros, as the two balance each other perfectly. Some churrerias in Spain serve porras, thicker churros that are meant to be dunked into the hot chocolate for full flavor and experience.

In Spain, churrerias have become cultural institutions beloved for their authentic churros. Churreria San Gines in Madrid is a historic 24-hour establishment that has been serving piping hot churros y chocolate since 1894. Los Arcos in Seville is famous for its crunchy churros that patrons dip into thick hot chocolate. La Dulcinea in Barcelona draws long lines for its classic churros con chocolate.

Latin America equally boasts many iconic churrerias. Cafe El Moro in Mexico City has generations of customers flocking for its famous churros alongside traditional Mexican hot chocolate. At Xurreria Manolo in Buenos Aires, patrons can watch churros being freshly fried and enjoy dulce de leche-filled specialties. Churreria Manolo in Los Angeles brings authentic churros from Spain with chocolate, caramel and honey dipping sauces.

In the United States, churros have become a staple at amusement parks, carnivals and fairs. Disney parks are renowned for their freshly fried, cinnamon-sugar coated churros. Costco has played a huge role in popularizing churros in America, offering giant churros for $1.50 that can be shared by the whole family. The churros at Costco food courts are praised for their straight-out-of-the-fryer crispiness on the outside and tantalizing cinnamon-sugar combination. Customers often detour to the food court just to grab a bite of the giant churros.

Churros have permeated pop culture and media as well, making special appearances in movies like Coco and TV shows like Better Call Saul. They are a hit at music festivals, sports stadiums and neighborhood block parties. Social media has fueled churros’ popularity further, as foodies, bloggers and influencers post tantalizing photos of churros from around the world. #Churros posts number over 5 million on Instagram, with fans obsessing over the perfect bite.    

Many have tried recreating churros in their own homes for a fresh, hot treat with just a few basic ingredients. Recipes call for a simple dough of flour, water, vegetable oil and a pinch of salt. The dough is piped into hot oil through a piping bag or churrera tool. After frying for a few minutes until golden brown, the churros are tossed in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Home chefs can customize their churros with spices like cayenne or cocoa powder mixed into the dough or coatings. Dipping sauces from chocolate to caramel can be prepped for easy dunking.  

After centuries of crispy, cinnamon-coated joy, it’s clear churros have earned a permanent place in the hearts of dessert lovers everywhere. Whether savored at an authentic churreria in Madrid or devoured from a food truck in LA, churros invoke nostalgia and bring people together. Even a quick churro run to Costco offers a scrumptious moment of bliss. There’s no denying the universal appeal of this fried pastry intertwined with so many cultures and customs. One bite of a freshly-fried churro is enough to sweeten any day.

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