The Soda That's A Staple Rice Ingredient In Colombia

Colombian cuisine is as varied as the country's regions. You'll find delicacies from the coastal northern regions made with coconut and then discover hearty potatoes in the Andean mountain region to the southwest. Rice came to Colombia via the influx of Spanish colonists in the 16th century, notes EurekaMag, and it's a staple of many Colombian dishes like calentado and arroz con coco from the northern coastal area.

Arroz con coco, or coconut rice in English, comes from Cartagena, says Amigo Foods. A sweet side dish you'll find all over Colombia, it's made of white rice with sugar and raisins, but the main flavor comes from coconut milk and coconut meat. The key is how the coconut flavor invades the entire rice dish. Experts sauté the uncooked rice in coconut milk before steaming it. 

Eater says modern manufacturing and controversy sparked another sweet addition to arroz con coco and other rice dishes. In some towns and villages, clean drinking water was unheard of, so locals got creative when cooking their favorite foods and turned a bottled soda into a solution to their problem.

Coca-Cola creates a sweet flavor in Colombian rice dishes

Coca-Cola's entrance into Colombian cooking goes back to the huge influence the company has on the country's economy. The soda company's bottling plants have a large presence in the country and therefore use large portions of municipal water supplies in towns and villages, causing a lack of clean water for residents, per Eater. Locals had to drink Coca-Cola because it was the only source of clean water to drink and cook with. In addition to ecological destruction, the company has been called out for unfair wages in the country.

Despite the controversy, adding the soda to foods has stuck around. The next time you share a meal with someone from Colombia, you might see them adding Coca-Cola to the broth that steams the rice. This modern custom comes from chefs in the tropical coastal towns looking to add sweetness to arroz árabe, a kind of rice pilaf that originated in the Middle East but has a South American take on this classic, says Eater.

How do you add Coca-Cola to your own rice recipes in the future? Replace half of the water with the soda. Not only will it add a touch of sweetness, but it will also turn white rice a light brown color. If you're ever in the mood for having a Coca-Cola-themed cuisine night, consider using it as a marinade, in pecan pie, as a cake ingredient, and for braising meat, says Southern Kitchen.