Your Guide to Puerto Rican Vegetables (Nutrition & Recipes!)

I created this guide to Puerto Rican vegetables because I want you to have a quick reference you can come back to whenever you need some ideas of what vegetables you can include with your favorite Puerto Rican meals.

I’m a Latina dietitian and I spend day in and day out talking to Latinos about food and nutrition. 

What I hear over and over again is that Latinos have been fed the message that our cultural foods are less healthy, and don’t have many vegetables.

But here’s the thing, Latin American food features plenty of vegetables we can work with! 

Specifically for Latin American food from the Caribbean (I’m Cuban-American), we may need to look more at the ingredients in our meals than looking for big green salads. 

So instead of worrying because you don’t see as many raw kale salads in your cultural foods, take advantage of Puerto Rican vegetables like recaito, viandas, and of course avocado. 

Keep reading for my full guide to Puerto Rican vegetables, including recipe ideas and nutrition benefits!

assortment of puerto rican vegetables


Too many people dismiss onions as a vegetable because we tend to eat them as flavoring in other food more than we eat them on their own. 

But onions are super nutritious! 

In addition to being a good source of vitamin C and potassium (1), onions are a good source of the antioxidant quercetin. Quercetin may help reduce blood pressure (2).

Onions are a type of allium vegetable, along with garlic (more on that next). Allium vegetables like onion may help prevent certain types of cancer, particularly gastric cancer (3). 

Puerto Rican Onion Recipe

Bistec Encebollado (steak with onions)

This is a classic example of how you might see vegetables in Latin American food. Here the onions are served with the steak as a “garnish.”


I couldn’t talk about onion without talking about garlic! These two tend to go hand in hand, after all.

Like onion, garlic is an allium vegetable. Also like onion, we tend to forget about garlic as a vegetable source since it usually kind of disappears into the food we’re cooking. 

Garlic is popular in traditional medicine because of its antimicrobial properties (4). 

Like other allium vegetables, garlic may be associated with lower cancer risk (5). 

Garlic may also help lower cholesterol (6). 

Puerto Rican Garlic Recipe

The simplest way to add garlic to any Puerto Rican meal is to serve it with a side of mojo de ajo (different from Cuban mojo). This sauce is perfect for dipping meat or tostones into. 

Puerto Rican mojo de ajo


While it may not be as common to see a side of carrots in Puerto Rican food, they’re a common enough ingredient in soups, stews, and mixed dishes. 

Carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene, which may help protect your skin health and eye health (7, 8). 

Puerto Rican carrot recipe

You will find carrots in hearty stews, like this Puerto Rican pollo guisado recipe. 


Tomato is a very important ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking!

While you will see fresh tomatoes used, canned tomato sauce is just as important. 

And I don’t want you to think of that as a bad thing at all!

Processed tomato (like tomato sauce) is a better source of lycopene (9). Including a mix of fresh and canned tomato in your cooking will give you a wide variety of health benefits. 

Puerto Rican Tomato Recipe

That can of tomato sauce you use in cooking is absolutely a source of vegetables (it may not be enough to meet your recommended daily vegetable servings, but it absolutely counts). 

Here’s a tasty shrimp recipe that uses canned tomato sauce. 

Camarones a la criolla


Sliced avocado is one of the most common side dishes in Puerto Rican food! 

You’ll find it served on the side of soups, stews, rice dishes, and more. 

And for good reason! A few slices of avocado is an incredibly fast and easy way to add extra fiber and heart-healthy fats to your meal. 

Eating avocado can help lower your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) (10). 

A recent study also found that eating avocado was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (11).

Puerto Rican Avocado Recipe

In addition to slices of fresh avocado, you’ll find avocado in a variety of salads in Puerto Rico. 

Try this Puerto Rican Gazpacho salad (not the soup), which blends salted codfish (bacalao) with avocado for a refreshing, high-protein salad. 


Eggplant is one of the rare blue/purple vegetables out there! 

Purple foods are a rich source of the anthocyanins–a type of antioxidant that can help prevent cellular damage (12). 

Anthocyanins may help prevent certain types of cancer and heart disease (13).

Puerto Rican Eggplant Recipe

This berenjena guisada recipe pairs eggplant with sofrito and salt cod. Pair with rice or plantains for a complete meal!


Peppers are also common in Puerto Rican food, although you won’t see spicy peppers as often as in Mexican food!

All peppers are good sources of vitamin C and most are also a good source of vitamin A and folate (14). 

The two most common peppers used in Puerto Rican cooking are ajies dulces and bell peppers. 

Aji dulce, in particular, is one of the signature ingredients in Puerto Rican sofrito (more on that in a second). 

And while hot peppers aren’t as common in Puerto Rican food, they can still make an appearance from time to time! Try this spicy chili vinegar, for instance. 

Calabaza (Caribbean Pumpkin)

Calabaza is a common name for many kinds of squash across Latin America. 

While it most commonly refers to the orange pumpkin, it can also refer to the Caribbean pumpkin, which is much closer to a kabocha squash than an orange pumpkin.

It’s easy to forget that squash are historically a Latin American food! The modern squash is thought to have originated in Mexico, and then spread throughout the Americas prior to European colonization. 

The Caribbean calabaza, with its orange flesh, is a good source of beta-carotene. In addition to protecting eye and skin health (see carrots section), beta-carotene may help protect against certain types of cancer (15). 

(Read more: Traditional Mexican Food History)

Puerto Rican Calabaza Recipe

This easy Puerto Rican Beans with Calabaza recipe adds diced calabaza into a comforting bean dish. 


(Note: culantro and cilantro are different!)

It may seem strange that I decided to include an herb like culantro in my list of vegetables. Nutritionally speaking, most herbs are very similar to leafy greens like spinach or lettuce!

The difference though is that we tend to eat them in much smaller amounts, so we don’t tend to get as many of the nutrition benefits out of herbs. 

But I included culantro because it’s an herb that is used in large enough quantities in Puerto Rican food that I thought it could count as a vegetable. 

A study from 2022 found that culantro is rich in vitamin C as well as other antioxidants (16). 

This same study found high antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity in culantro. 

Culantro is the main distinguishing feature in the Puerto Rican take on sofrito, called recaito. 

In addition to being a good way to add vegetables to any dish, the cooking technique used to make sofrito carries unique health benefits. (Read more about the health benefits of sofrito here.)

Puerto Rican Culantro Recipe

Of course I had to include a recaito recipe here!

Recaito Recipe

Viandas (Puerto Rican Root Vegetables)

Puerto Rican root vegetables are so abundant and varied, they’re a whole category unto themselves!

The general term for Puerto Rican root vegetables and/or starchy vegetables is “viandas.” 

Of course, some fruits will fall into this category because they are cooked and served like a root vegetable. This includes plantains and breadfruit, among others. 

In general, root vegetables/starchy vegetables are a good source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and resistant starch. This makes them very filling, and can also help you manage your blood sugar (17). 

Root vegetables and starchy vegetables can also be a good source of vitamins and minerals (18). 

While there are many different types of viandas, it’s also very common to find a side dish of “viandas” served with Puerto Rican meals. This is generally a mix of a few different root vegetables or starchy vegetables, boiled and salted. 

Try this recipe for steamed viandas. It makes a perfect side for any of your favorite Puerto Rican protein dishes. 

Another popular recipe that uses a lot of viandas is sancocho. Try this Puerto Rican sancocho recipe. 

puerto rican root vegetables infographic


The batata (also known as boniato) is a type of sweet potato with white flesh. 

It’s more similar to a Japanese sweet potato than the bright orange sweet potato we see in the United States. 

White sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber and resistant starch, like many other tubers. They do have some antioxidants, though not as many as purple or orange sweet potatoes (19). 

One randomized controlled study found a diet including white sweet potato may help lower HbA1c (average blood sugar) (20). 

Cassava (aka yuca or manioc)

I wrote a whole blog post on the health benefits of yuca! You can read it here. 

In addition to being a good source of fiber, yuca is high in vitamin C! This fact surprises most people.

For a very simple way to serve yuca, try this classic Puerto Rican side dish, yuca al ajillo

Yautia and Malanga

I grouped these together because there is a lot of overlap between these roots, and they’re often considered interchangeable.

Some sources that I consulted considered these to be different names for the same plant, and others said they were closely related but different plants. A lot of the confusion comes from different naming conventions across Latin America and the Caribbean.

To add to the confusion, taro is a close relative of malanga/yautia as well!

For me, as a Cuban-American, the term malanga is more easily recognizable to me than yautia. I even have a recipe for mashed malanga!

Yautia may have prebiotic benefits (21). One trial in mice found that mice who were fed yautia had more diverse gut microbiome than mice who were fed potato, for instance (22). 

You might see yautia as one of the viandas in a stew, but you can also try this crema de yautia soup


Ñame is a type of yam common in the Caribbean and Latin America. 

Like most of the other root veggies listed here, ñame is a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates. 

It’s also an excellent source of potassium; one serving of ñame provides between 23 and 38% of your daily recommended potassium (23).


I have a lot to say about nutrition and plantains! In fact, you can read an entire blog post about it here. 

One major point to keep in mind though is that plantains are a good source of resistant starch, which can benefit our gut health!

Plantains are a staple across the Caribbean and there are so many creative ways to eat them. You can serve them savory or sweet, fried, boiled, mashed, and more. 

Perhaps the most quintessentially Puerto Rican way of serving plantains is in mofongo, though. 

Check out this classic mofongo recipe.

You can also try my stuffed plantain recipe, which was loosely inspired by the Puerto Rican dish canoas. 

Breadfruit (pana)

Another fruit that is treated like a starchy vegetable in Puerto Rican food!

Breadfruit is higher in protein and fiber compared to potato (and also carbohydrates) (24). It’s also a good source of lutein, an antioxidant which is important for eye health (25). 

You may find boiled breadfruit served as a simple side dish, like in this recipe for boiled panas

Breadfruit can also be fried like tostones. 

Green bananas

Not to be confused with plantains, green bananas are another starchy staple in Puerto Rican food.

One study found that green bananas may help ease gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea and constipation, this is likely due to the resistant starch content (26).

You’ll find green bananas in many stews or similar dishes. But you can also try them on their own in this popular side dish: guineos en escabeche. 

Final Thoughts

Wow, that was a lot of Puerto Rican vegetables!

The number one thing I want you to take away from this blog post is that Puerto Rican food has plenty of vegetables to choose from, and you can absolutely eat a nutritious, traditional Puerto Rican meal. 

What you’ll notice from the example recipes I pulled is that it’s more common for the vegetables to be included as an ingredient in a larger recipe. But that doesn’t reduce their nutritional value!
It’s so important to me that my fellow Latinos understand how nourishing our food culture is. That’s why I’ve created meal plans just for us! Want to get started? Check out my free 1-week Mexican meal plan when you sign up below.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top