A Comprehensive Crash Course to Kakanin

Rice is life.
ILLUSTRATOR Jasrelle Serrano

If you're not convinced that Filipinos love rice, then just look around for all the places that offer unlimited portions of this staple grain.

Thanks to our country's terrain and climate, Filipinos have been harvesting rice for centuries and as with all things ubiquitous, the way we eat it eventually evolved. Apart from the usual boil, we see them as adornments(check out the Pahiyas Festival in Quezon), as snacks, as desserts, and sometimes as both. Kakanin comes from the root word kanin or "rice," which is the main ingredient to making the sticky rice snacks we have been enjoying for years.



What is it: The name came from the word litaw, which in English means "to float" or "to surface." Usually oval in shape (but sometimes circular) and flat, this kakanin is made with washed, soaked, and ground sticky rice also known as kaning malagkit.

How is it made: Rice flour and water are mixed until a dough is formed. The dough is then divided into small pieces and manually molded into ovals or circles before being flattened. These are poached in boiling water; the pieces supposedly float to the surface when they're cooked. The palitaw is finished with grated coconut, toasted sesame seeds, and sugar.

More modern offerings embellish the palitaw with fruits and nuts while others add sweeteners and sesame seeds into the actual dough. Glutinous rice flour or any packaged rice flour could also be used to cut prep time..

Did you know: In the Philippines, Pangasinan is the capital of this sweet treat, but other countries like Japan and Korea have their own version. The Japanese have mochi cakes while Koreans have a similar snack that's stuffed with sweet bean paste.




What is it: A round rice cake created with glutinous rice, sugar, and coconut milk. It’s usually served on a banana leaf and topped with duck eggs, kesong puti, and butter. Bibingka is especially popular during the Christmas season, with booths set up after Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.

How is it made: Bibingka is a soft, spongy cake made with rice flour or galapong, coconut milk, sugar, eggs, and baking powder. Once all the ingredients are mixed together, the batter is poured into a container already prepped with banana leaves. Traditionally, they are baked using live coals in a clay oven. Sometimes, you can also top them with grated coconut and sugar.

Did you know: They say the term bibingka came from the Chinese word bi which means unripe grain. This kakanin is also similar to the dessert bebinca from Goa, India. Bebinca is made from flour, coconut milk, sugar, egg yolks, ghee or clarified butter, and almonds.

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What is it: A rice delicacy made of steamed, sweetened glutinous rice wrapped with either buri palm leaves or banana leaves.

How is it made: Glutinous rice is cooked with salt and sweetened with coconut milk. They are then shaped and wrapped in leaves before getting steamed. They can be dipped in sugar for a better taste, but others prefer to eat them with ripe mangoes.

Suman has several varieties. There is suman latik is suman served with a, sweet, brown, cooked coconut milk residue; suman moron, which is made with chocolate and is popular in Visayas, and suman Patupat, which is Ilokano and triangular in shape. The most common type is, of course, suman sa Lihia, which is how most of us enjoy it.

Did you know: Since pre-colonial times, Filipinos have been offering suman to gods or presenting them as gift to visitors. During his visit to the Philippines, explorer Antonio Pigafetta recounted that he was offered a type of rice cake that “was wrapped in leaves and made in somewhat longish pieces.”

Suman is also known as budbod in the Visayan languages.



Sapin Sapin

What is it: A colorful, layered sticky rice cake.

How is it made: Traditionally, it is made using galapong or sticky rice dough, mixed with coconut milk and sugar. The dough is split into three parts and colors: purple (from purple yam), yellow (pureed corn), and plain white. One layer is steamed until firm, with the next layers individually added then cooked. The final product is topped with latik or toasted and sweetened grated coconut.

Did you know: Sapin-sapin allegedly originated from Abra whose people descended from from the Tingguran tribe in Ilocos. The Tingguran tribe is known for their woven baskets and blankets. The word sapin-sapin itself refers to a blanket and layers which describes the appearance of the rice cake.



What is it: Biko is another rice cake with a distinct nutty sweetness. This one is brown and garnished with latik.

How is it made: These rice cakes are made with malagkit rice and coconut milk. Traditionally, this rice cake is placed over banana leaves in a bilao and garnished with latik or cooked coconut milk residue on top. 

Did you know: Biko got its name from the coffee-colored, sweet coconut curd that gives it its unique flavor.




What is it: Kutsinta or cuchinta is a steamed rice cake that has a brownish-orange color and a jelly-like texture.

How is it made: The usual ground rice and sugar is given a spin with lye (sodium hydroxide), which gives it its hue and texture. You can also enhance the color with yellow food coloring or annatto extract. The batter is poured into ramekins then steamed. They're usually sold in packs and topped with grated coconut. Sometimes, it also comes with latik or langka.

Did you know: Some people theorize that the name kutsinta is actually derived from a kitchen tool that gives it its flatted saucer-like shape. Unfortunately, the name of such an instrument has been lost in history, but we're guessing it sounds a little bit like the namesake rice cake.

Another theory suggests that the word kutsinta comes from the Chinese term kueh tsin tao, referring to a steamed little cake or cookie. Pre-colonial Filipinos had been trading with China since the 9th century, so this theory isn't far-fetched. Kutsinta had supposedly been around since that time. The addition of grated coconut was a Filipino addition.



What is it: Though there are a lot of varieties, kalamay is known for its light brown coloring and gummy texture. 

Kalamay can be classified into two types: a syrup-y mixture used with other dishes or eaten with a lot of latik and the chewy kind which is usually eaten on its own. The Bohol kalamay ranges from extremely sweet to mildly sweet and it's sold inside coconut shell bowls. These containers are then sealed shut with a characteristic red crepe paper, also known as kalamay-hati or half kalamay.


Baguio kalamay is more popularly known as sundot kulangot or "picked booger" because of its appearance and the manner of eating it. Sweetened with molasses, this variety is packed in halved pitogo (sago palm) shells and sealed with red crepe paper just like the Bohol version. The serving is small and they're sold by bundling pieces inside a split bamboo tied with a string.

In Iloilo, kalamay comes with a thicker consistency and the city of San Enrique in Negros also celebrates a Kalamay festival. Another city that celebrates this kakanin is Candon, Ilocos Sur, which prefers kalamay wrapped in banana leaves or coconut shells—though more modernsellers use polystyrene containers and cellophane.

Mindoro kalamay usually contained grated coconut and sweetened with peanut butter or vanila while folks in Camiling, Tarlac, prefer to use pounded green rice, which they call nilubyan or iniruban.

The last variant, indang kalamay or calamay buna is sweet delicacy of sticky rice, brown sugar, and coconut milk that is well known in Indang, Cavite. This type of kalamay is made using malagkit mixed with coconut milk and panutsa.


How is it made: By simply mixing and cooking the main ingredients of coconut milk, brown sugar, and glutinous rice then letting it sit until it hardens.

Did you know: Kalamay supposedly originated from Candon, Ilocos—specifically in the village of Bagar. Bagar was left in ruins after the war, but several coconut trees stood standing. Six elderly women were reportedly concerned with the food supply that they thought of coming up with new ways to use raw food that were spared fro the war. This includes coconut milk, brown sugar, glutinous rice in a vat.

They mixed all the ingredients together, then stirred the pot until the mixture became sticky. They cooked it and when they tasted it, much to their surprise, it was pleasantly delicious. 

In many Visayan languages like Hiligaynon, kalamay is also synonymous with "sugar" from sugarcane. The word is also usually connected to kamay in modern Cebuano dialects. In the Waray language, kalamay refers to hardened cakes made up of molasses which is used as a sweetener for many cooked desserts.




What is it: A fluffy steamed Filipino rice cake that's usually shaped like a muffin or cupcake. Puto is traditionally white, but coloring agents can be added. People usually enjoy it with dinuguan.

There are several varieties of puto across the country. Some of the more popular ones include puto bumbong, which is made from the purple sticky rice pirurutong. Its name comes from bumbong, the bamboo tubes that they're cooked in, which resemble chimneys. They are later served with butter or margarine, shredded coconut, and sugar. A famous snack, the puto seko is made with wheat flour and shaped into crunchy, bite-size pieces. "Seco" technically means dry puto.

A more fun interpretation is the puto pao, which puts together puto and siopao, while puto maya is made by steaming sticky rice and coconut milk.

Another favorite variant is the puto Calasiao from Pangasinan. They're bite-sized and made from semi-glutinous rice fermented in earthen jars. In Biñan, puto comes as big as pizzas and furnished with a cheesy taste.


How is it made: Rice flour, water, and coconut milk are combined, stirred; sugar and salt are added later. After being poured into molds, they're lightly brushed with melted butter then steamed. Most people prefer to top it with sliced cheese. 

Did you know: The word puto is said to come from the Malay word puttu, which means “portioned.”

However, others say that puto actually came from the Chinese merchants. They introduced the snack that was called kueh putu, which was later shortened to puto.

During the San Buenaventura feast day in Nueva Ecija, people cook puto and other kakanin to celebrate and pray for the health of the children in their villages. They call it Pistang Puto.




What is it: Glutinous rice, shredded young coconut, and coconut milk are the main ingredients. Tupig is usually wrapped in fresh banana leaves that appear charred. This kakanin has a very distinct coconut taste.

How is it made: Once all ingredients are mixed, they are usually wrap in fresh banana leaves and cooked on top of a hot charcoal grill. 

Did you know: Tupig is also called intemtem and this kakanin is said to come from Pangasinan. This kakanin used to be served only during the holidays, but it gained popularity in the 1960s. Nowadays, people also prefer to add flavors to their tupig like jackfruit, pandan, strawberry, purple yam or ube, and guava.


What is it: Sweet and chewy ball-shaped kakanin that are oftentimes skewered and sold on the streets. They are mainly cooked using sweet rice flour or glutinous rice flour and sweetened shredded coconuts.

How is it made: Rice, rice flour, sweetened shredded coconut, and coconut milk are mixed until a dough is formed. They are cut into smaller pieces, shaped into balls or ovals, and deep fried. They are later coated with a mixture of coconut milk and brown sugar.

Did you know: In some places in Central Luzon, carioca is also called duru-duro because they are on sticks. Duro means "to stick."




What is it: A rice cake made of toasted glutinous rice flour cooked low and slow in coconut milk. It is usually known for its long, cylindrical shape and powdery coating.

How is it made: Once the right consistency is reached, the mixture is formed into tubular shapes. They are later toasted rice flour and wrapped in banana leaves.

Did you know: Espasol is also known as baye-baye which originated in Western Visayas specifically Iloilo and Bacolod City. It used to be a special dish served only during the Holy Week. In Nueva Ecija, it is called tajada or tahada.



Panlasang Pinoy, Juan Kakanin,,, and The Governor General's Kitchen

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Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for and
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