Colombian Natilla

Click aquí para versión en español

Without exaggerating, the Christmas season in Colombia is absolutely insane. Throughout the entire month of December you cannot miss the parties, the music, the novena, and the food, especially natilla. Did you know that natilla is the most popular dessert in Colombia during this time of year? Every household starts making their own natilla and buñuelos (cheese fritters) at the very beginning of the month, not only to share at home but also to share with their neighbors, family and friends. By New Year’s you’ve shared and eaten all kinds of natilla, even your cousin’s, aunt’s, bother’s neighbor’s.

Back in the day, the natilla was made by our grandmothers after cooking and grinding the corn, they also added panela (hardened sugarcane), and cooked it on a wood stove while stirring heavily with a wooden spoon. Nowadays everything is so much easier because you can find ready-made natilla mix in many Latin grocery stores. Super easy! But what happens if we don’t want to make something that comes out of a box? Or if we live abroad where we can hardly find precooked corn meal to make arepas, let alone a ready-made mix to make natilla? That’s where the idea was born to make our Colombian natilla with ingredients you can easily find anywhere. Now, the original natilla contains panela, the ingredient that gives the traditional recipe its caramel color but which is very hard to find abroad. In many places you can find piloncillo, a Mexican ingredient kind of similar to the panela, however, it really doesn’t have the same flavor we find in Colombia. So, in this recipe we will be using brown sugar which gives it the same color and flavor found in the Colombian natilla. If you’re not a big fan of panela or brown sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar.

Below is a video that shows you step by step how I prepare natilla at home. Unlike the Spanish natillas which are made with eggs, our Colombian natilla contains cornstarch thanks to our ancestors who added corn to
everything, and I’m not kidding, when I say say everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

I hope you enjoy it!

Printable Recipe

COLOMBIAN NATILLAIngredients12-14 servings

  • 4 ½ cups (1080 ml or a little bit more than a liter) of milk (divided)
  • ¼ cup (50 g) white sugar
  • ½ cup (107 g) packed brown sugar
  • 1 dash ground cloves (optional)
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • ¾ cup (45 g) shredded coconut (optional), I use sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup (120 g) cornstarch
  • 1 tbs cinnamon powder (for decoration)


Pour 3½ cups (840 ml)of milk into a big pot. Then add white sugar, brown
sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir all ingredients with a wooden
spoon and bring milk to a boil over medium low heat.
2. As soon as milk comes to a boil, remove from the stove and let it rest for about 5 minutes.3. In the meantime, mix the cornstarch with the remaining cup (240 ml) of milk until it completely dissolves.4.
Once the 5 minutes have passed, put the pot back on the stove over
medium low heat. Remove the cinnamon sticks and add the shredded
coconut. Then pour the dissolved cornstarch into the hot milk. Stir
constantly with a wooden spoon until it thickens and you can see the
bottom of the pot.5. Pour immediately into a serving dish or casserole and let it cool for at least an hour. Decorate with the cinnamon powder. Serve with buñuelos if desired.

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  1. Anonymous
    January 31, 2013 / 2:28 pm

    Thanks for the Natilla recipe. My daughter had to make an authentic Colombian recipe for her Spanish class and this was super easy and delicious!

    • Sweet y Salado
      January 31, 2013 / 8:59 pm

      Wow! Thank you so much for your comment and I'm really glad it turned out well. Congratulations. =)

      • Pamela Sandra Diez
        May 1, 2019 / 5:57 pm

        Thank you,for your video.i have an art class that I take 2 times a month,because I love has been a really big therapy session for me,opening my creative side.anyway this week,we are having a lunch for our group.the teacher asked us to bring something from our I decided to bring barilla y bunuelos.something very delicious and fun.i am a Colombian women by birth.but raised in the USA.thank you.muchas gracias.con mucho amor,miss America.!!????☕️

  2. Anonymous
    December 23, 2013 / 5:15 am

    has intentado usar jaggery (panela de India) como sustituto de panela?

    • Sweet y Salado
      December 23, 2013 / 5:49 pm

      No, esa no la he tratado, si la veo la compro. Pero, sí he tratado con piloncillo que es la panela mexicana y la verdad es que no me gusta mucho el sabor. Este fin de semana encontré panela colombiana en la tienda latina de mi ciudad y me salió extremadamente simple.

  3. yomaira varela
    December 4, 2014 / 9:06 pm

    Hello, I do have access to panela. How much do you think I should use instead of sugar?

    • Sweet y Salado
      December 5, 2014 / 5:24 pm

      Hi yomaira, it all depends on how big your panela is. Last year I made it with one whole panela and they turned out fine, but you can start with ½ a panela and if you think it's too bland, then you can add the other ½. Keep in mind that you have to do this before you add the cornstarch. =)

  4. Kevin Boyd
    August 12, 2015 / 9:54 pm

    Thank you for the recipes and encouragement. I Made the Natilla and required Bunuelos for a lovely Colombian woman I recently began seeing. It was apparently a big hit. After sharing it with coworkers and her Colombian friends it was rated (and perhaps me, by extension) an A++++. By following your instructions there were no explosions and everything appeared EXACTLY as your pictures indicated it should. I hope you have enough bandwidth to handle my explorations of your other exciting Colombian recipes.

    • Sweet y Salado
      August 13, 2015 / 4:50 pm

      I applaud you, Kevin for wanting to make your new Colombian lady happy with the natilla and buñuelos, which are soooooooo popular and traditional in Colombia. I'm so happy to hear that everything turned out great and that everybody enjoyed them! Let me know if you have questions about any of the recipes that I have on the blog!!! =)

  5. Anonymous
    December 10, 2015 / 9:10 pm

    Did you use whole milk or 2%? Or does it matter which one?

    • Sweet y Salado
      December 11, 2015 / 10:02 pm

      It's best to use whole milk because of the fat content.

  6. Paula
    December 18, 2015 / 6:09 am

    Hola! Se guarda en la nevera? O al clima?

    • Sweet y Salado
      January 4, 2016 / 7:32 pm

      Hola Paula, como la natilla contiene leche, es mejor guardarla en la nevera.

  7. Unknown
    December 23, 2016 / 12:01 pm

    Gracias Diana!! me encanto tu website y tus videos. Son muy claros y muy bien hechos!! muchas gracias por compartir todas estas recetas para nosotras que vivimos afuera de nuestra tierra.. y .. no sabemos cocinar comida colombiana!!:(:)

  8. Unknown
    December 23, 2016 / 4:38 pm

    How long it need to have it thickness

    • Sweet y Salado
      December 23, 2016 / 7:14 pm

      It does take a while, about 10-15 minutes.

  9. Anonymous
    March 12, 2017 / 5:55 am

    Oh, boy. Tonight I made natilla from a box mix. I read the directions several times. It didn't seem right but I did it anyway. First, it said to mix the 12 oz. of powdered mix with 6 oz. of milk. "Mix until dissolved". Uh-huh. No way is 12 oz. of any dry mix going to dissolve in 6 oz. or milk. So, that turned into more of a meal than a solution.The box recipe called for 28 oz of panela dissolved into 28 oz of milk. That seemed doable. Tossed in the cinnamon sticks. I brought it all to a boil over medium low heat. Time to stir in the mess made of the mix and milk. I dunno. When it started to get firm I stirred in the shredded coconut.I ended up with a lumpy mess. A good tasting lumpy mess nonetheless. After reading several recipes on natilla, 28 oz of panela seems a bit much. You mentioned in a comment above to start with half a panela to replace the sugar then add more to taste. Would 1 panela be about 4 oz? Does the panela also replace the white sugar?I'd never heard of natilla before coming across a recipe for pan de cielo. It looked so good that I thought I'd try making it. One of the ingredients was natilla. After doing some homework on natilla I thought I'd try making some. Behold, I find natilla mix at my local tienda. Wish I had found you first.I made the mistake of passing the link to the pan de cielo around the office. Now they're expecting it Monday. I Don't think they'll lynch me if I bring in warm brownies instead. Or maybe arepas.

    • Sweet y Salado
      March 13, 2017 / 8:01 pm

      Hi there! I'm sorry you had so much trouble with the Colombian natilla you tried to make and I also have bad news, this is not the natilla you need for your "pan de cielo". This natilla is a simple custard we make with corn flour or in this case, cornstarch, with milk and panela or sugar and it's never used to make other recipes. I believe the natilla you may be looking for is the Spanish version, which they call "natillas", plural. If you still want to make Colombian natilla, you can use 1/2 lb of panela, which will substitute the sugar. I personally don't use it because the panela you find here in the US is extremely acidic and it usually curdles the milk.

  10. Anonymous
    March 24, 2017 / 5:23 pm

    Hi. I posted my poor but tasty result from using a store bought mix a couple of weeks ago. I Wanted to say I followed your recipe to the letter and the natilla came out fine. When I make it again, I will use the panela because the natilla seemed a bit bland. The pan de cielo however was a smash hit. Looking forward to trying my hand at pandebono before the weather gets too hot.

  11. Anonymous
    December 31, 2017 / 10:00 pm

    Diana, thank you for this recipe. My mom is Colombian and she is spending December I’m Colombia this year so it’s up to me to make bonuelos y natillas this year. Thanks for making it look so easy! Happy New year!