Melcochas de natilla is the Spanish name for a traditional Costa Rican candy made from sour cream and sugar. How to make the two-ingredient homemade candy recipe unique to Costa Rica. The festival of melcochas de Maria is celebrated in San Ramon Costa Rica on December 7th each year.
You might know that my Costa Rican home away from home is San Ramon, Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley, it’s a mid-sized town with a large expat community, a University of Costa Rica campus, and home to one of the largest farmer’s markets in the country.
Sam Ramon is also home to some of my favorite Costa Rican food- and my absolute favorite Costa Rican candy- Melcochas de natilla. (Colombia has a melcocha colombiana but it is not made with dairy- it resembles more of a hard candy, like the old-time ribbon candy we eat here in the States.)
While you can find Melcochas de natilla throughout Costa Rica, they are a signature tradition in San Ramon. I had the opportunity to make melcochas with one of the most famous candy makers in San Ramon. I’ll share a bit about the tradition with you, and the recipe!
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What Are Melcochas de Natilla?
Melcochas de natilla are literally translated as sour cream candies. Don’t be fooled, however, they are super super sweet. There are many types- some are hard, some are semi-hard, and some are super soft like taffy.
All are made with sugar cane, or the traditional Costa Rican tapa de dulce. They are handcrafted candies sold in very tiny batches all around Costa Rica- grocery stores, bakeries, bus stops, fruit stands, and even street vendors hawk them at stoplights.
What Traditions Are Related To Melcochas de Natilla?
On December 7 of each year, the entire city of San Ramon celebrates the festival of the Melcochas de Maria. The date is December 7th because it is the eve of the Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Mary in Spanish is Maria.
The tradition goes that bands of kids run through the neighborhood on December 7th yelling “Maria, Maria, Melcochas, melcochas.” Maria will come out and chase the kids, throwing candies (melcochas de Maria) and occasionally coins at them.
This is a bit hilarious to me because, quite frankly, the Costa Rican joke (and a joke among Latinos in general) is that everyone is named Maria or Jose in some form. (First or middle name).
It’s sort of true- and if it’s not friends will often tease each other by adding Maria to your name. I have a friend that always answers the phone when I call him by saying “Christa Maria” even though I am not named Maria. He’s just teasing me!
In this sense, you can run down a Costa Rican residential block and yell Maria and pretty much be guaranteed that several people will answer.
As an aside- many people named Maria or Jose go by their middle names. My husband is a great example of this. His first name legally is Jose, but no one ever (ever) calls him that.
I remember when the jeweler called our house to let us know that my wedding ring was ready, he called and asked for Jose. My husband answered, told the guy that no one named Jose lived at that number, and hung up on him.
When I asked him who called, he said- some guy looking for Jose. When the cell phone rang (it was the jeweler trying a second number) I reminded him that his name is, indeed, Jose. It was hilarious.
Here’s a video, in Spanish, from San Ramon, talking about the tradition itself.
These days, the city of San Ramon goes all out in the festival of the melcochas de Maria, making over 10,000 candies to distribute form the church. People flock downtown to get candy and celebrate this great tradition together.
I’ve never been but it’s high on my list! if you find yourself in town for this festival, you can find all the info you need to participate on the Municipalidad de San Ramon Facebook page.
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What Is Natilla and Where Do I Get It?
Natilla is basically Costa Rican sour cream. It is often made on an industrial scale by larger companies such as Dos Pinos. It is also made at many organic farms as well. It’s sold in Costa Rica at grocery stores, in pulperias and bakeries. Some people just make it at home on a tiny scale and resell it.
In the United States I have never found it. In places in the Us with high concentrations of Costa Ricans (Elizabeth, New Jersey comes to mind), you may find it.
For the rest of us, there are two ways to get it. You can make it with this Costa Rican Natilla recipe, or you can buy Mexican or Central American style crema and use that. You could even use regular sour cream and add a good table spoon of sugar to it, but I’ve never tried to do that.
How To Make Melochas de Natilla
I spent the day with Dona Chris Rojas from La Paz de San Ramon. She is famous for her handmade melcochas, which she makes every single day in her kitchen and sells at two of my favorite local restaurants- Pizza Loca and La cafeteria de Flory.
The recipe is below if you want to recreate this timeless tradition at home. If you want to simply see how we made the candies, you can watch this video:
Other Costa Rican holiday Food Traditions
- 1 cup Costa Rican natilla, Mexican crema or sour cream
- 3 cups granulated white sugar
- In a large saucepan, combine natilla and sugar. Stir until smooth.
- Over medium heat, boil mixture until it becomes a golden brown color.
- On a cool counter (ceramic, aluminum, etc) or large baking sheet, pour bubbling mixture out. Allow mixture to cool until sticky to the touch (like taffy).
- Lift cooled taffy substance and roll into a ball. Begin to stretch and roll to mix. This is best done on a wooden pole.
- Bring mixture inside and place on an aluminum work space.
- Divide taffy into 8-10 pieces and roll each piece out into a long rope.
- Allow ropes to cool until firm. Place individual ropes on a wooden cutting block and cut the candies into 1/4" pieces (about 10 centimeters)
- Allow individual pieces to cool before placing in an airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to 3 months.
- Share with friends and family! Pura vida!
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