Monday, May 3, 2010

What Chileans Eat: The Chilean National Diet/La Dieta Nacional Chilena

Meat is often served grilled, or asado, as in Argentina and covered in pebre, a condiment similar to Mexican salsa. Lamb, beef, and pork are the most common meats, chicken being considered inferior, though it too is consumed. The Traditional Diet of Chile,
Chileans probably eat more seafood than any other Latin American country. New Latin cuisine: a taste of Chile
Many recipes are accompanied and enhanced by Chilean wine such as Curanto.  Gourmet Girl Magazine
Interesting quotations, though not especially useful in understanding the Chilean diet: pebre is not served “covering” grilled meat; lamb is the least common meat in Chile[1]; chicken is Chile’s most important source of animal protein[2]; Peruvians and Mexicans eat more seafood than Chileans[3]; and curanto is not a wine, but a clam-bake of shellfish, meats and potatoes.

But what do Chileans eat?  “Typical Chilean foods” like cazuela, pastel de choclo, humitas, and porotos granados (boiled dinner, corn pie, tamales, and shell beans with corn and pumpkin) are certainly popular, but are they what Chileans eat every day; major sources of calories and proteins and fats?

Clockwise from top left: cazuela, asado, humitas, locos mayo;  center, empanadas.

It’s not easy to find out, for Chile or for other countries. The major sources of information are dietary surveys, typically of some portion of the population (school children, the elderly, indigenous people, etc.); household expenditure surveys, showing the estimated percentage of household expenses on various food categories; and national food production and import/export data: production + imports – exports – waste = “consumption” (more or less).  Keep in mind that the mass of “facts” and figures you read here (or in other places on this topic) should always be preceded by “more or less,” it’s not rocket science.  [Note: For a less academic discussion of what Chileans eat, see Eating Chilean: Gastronomic Geography of Chile]

What Chileans eat 1:  Bread

Chileans eat more bread than citizens of any other country except Germany, an average of 208 kg. (458 lbs.) per household per year.[4] And families in the poorest 20% of the population eat even more, 228 kg. (502 lbs.)  Data from 1997-98 show that the average Santiago household spent 9% of its food expenditures on bread, and the poorest 60% of households spent more on bread than on any other single food, averaging 13%.[5]  Most of that bread, almost 97%, is bakery style “French bread” (marraquetas [photo] and hallullas) sold by the kg.; packaged loaf bread makes up only 3.4% of sales and whole wheat bread was bought by only 28% of households.[6]  In addition Chileans spent an average of 4% of their income on other wheat products, pasta, cakes, cookies and crackers, and about 1% on rice (no data for corn, oats, etc.)  Thus, bread and other cereal products provided 39% of Chile’s calories (down from 48% in 1961) and about 14% of their food expenditures.  For comparison, the contribution of grains to US diet is 24%[7]

Why so much bread?  It’s good; it’s (relatively) cheap at 700 to 1000 CLP/kg $.65 to $.90 lb.), and it’s very much a part of Chile’s food traditions.  Breakfast is bread, and perhaps ham or cheese; bread is usually served with almuerzo, “lunch” the largest meal of the day; onces “tea” eaten from 5:00 to 7:00 PM  is usually a sandwich on bread; and cena “supper” eaten at 9:00 or later usually includes bread.[8]  An adult man can easily eat 3 whole marraquetas a day, at about 430 calories each, totaling about 1300 calories; 45% of a reasonable caloric intake for a moderately active man.  (And for an excellent history of Chilean bread, see Criss Salizar's blog Urbatorium)

What Chileans eat 2: Sugar

According to FAO data[9], the second major food category in Chilean diet is sugar and other sweeteners, providing 16% of calories (USA 19%).  Sugar comprised an average of 1.3% of household food expenditures, an additional 7.1% went to carbonated beverages, and 1% went to powdered drink mixes for a total of approximately 8.5% for sweetened water (and a little flavoring).   Chilean soft drink consumption, estimated at 95 lt. per person per year in 2006[10] was still relatively low; US consumption was 216 lt. In 2002[11]

What Chileans eat 3: Meat, poultry and fish

Third after bread and sugar, Chileans eat meat, poultry and a little fish, together making up 13% of calories (USA 14%) and 19% of their food pesos in 1997. The most popular meat was beef; all 5 income groups spent from 8 to 10% of their food budget on beef.  Chicken is the second meat, accounting for almost 6% of expenditures in the poorest group and 3% in the most affluent.   Next are “cecinas,” cold cuts and sausages, usually pork, commonly eaten with bread for breakfast or onces.  The average household spent 3.3% of its food money on ceninas.  Fresh pork was next to last, representing on average only 1.1% of expenditures; and surpassed only fresh fish, at 0.8%.  Lamb, with consumption of less that .5 kg. per person per year in Santiago, didn’t make the chart.[12]

Meat consumption has changed since 1997, increasing from 65 to 81 kg. in 2008[13] and its composition has changed greatly, with beef declining to third place:

Domestic consumption of poultry meat grew another 11 percent in 2006 and became the most important source of animal protein in Chile, mainly as a result of the higher prices of beef during the same period of time, which resulted by a significant fall of beef imports. Per capita consumption of poultry meat in 2006 was 33.9 kilos, followed by pork with 22.5 kilos and beef with 22.0 kilos.[14]  (For more see Eating Chilean Beef )

Seafood consumption, has also declined from 19 kg per person per year in 1995 to 13 kg in 2003, and reportedly, 7 kg in 2010; concomitant with an increase from 86% to 90% of Chilean seafood exports.  By comparison Spain and Mexico average about 20 kg. seafood per capita.[15]  Chilean seafood is quite expensive, with the least expensive fish costing around 2,000 CLP per kg., ($1.80/lb) for whole fish, or about 600 CLP ($1.20) for a modest serving.  An equivalent serving of ground beef costs around 400 CLP ($.80) and chicken and pork are less.   (For more see Eating Chilean Fish)

What Chileans eat 4: Fats and oils

Vegetable oils and animal fats added to foods provided 12% of Chilean calories in 1997. This is actually a relatively low percentage; comparable figure for the US is 22%. And total fat consumption (including fats naturally occurring in foods) is estimated to be at 78 grams per day, 30% of calories—the percentage recommended by the American heart Association. But fat intake rises with income, and this data is from 1997 when Chilean per capita income was only about 60% of what it is today.[16]

Chilean households spent, on average, 1.7% of their food expenditure on vegetable oil; animal fats and margarine expenditures were too low (<.8%) to be included in the data.  Chileans use vegetable oils in cooking, and to season salads and boiled potatoes. Fried potatoes are very common on restaurant menus; and one survey reported that 26% of Chileans ate two or more high fat foods (mayonnaise, cheese, fried potatoes or other fried foods) per week.[17]   Mayonnaise is very popular; Chileans are said to be the greatest mayonnaise consumers per capita in Latin America and third in the world.

The most common oils in Chile are soy bean and sunflower oil.  Chilean olive oil production is only about 1/10 of a lt. per person per year.[18]

What Chileans eat 4: Fruits and vegetables, potatoes and legumes.

Late summer fruits and vegetables from the feria, farmers market.

Together these three food categories contributed 11% of Chileans calories in 1997 (fruits and vegetables, 5%; tubers and roots, 4%; and legumes, 2%). (Only potatoes (1.8% of expenditures) and tomatoes (1.5%) were included in the expenses chart, of items 0.8% of food expenses or more.)

Data on fruit and vegetable consumption is relatively difficult to find, but a 1997 survey of 871 adults in Santiago found fruit consumption to average 83 gm per day (30 kg. per year) for men  and 140 gm (51 kg./year) for women.  Vegetable consumption was 190 gm (69 kg/yr) in men and 178 gm. (65 kg/yr in women.  Slightly fewer that 50% of men and women consumed recommended quantities of vegetables and only about 30% consumed as much fruit as recommended in dietary guidelines.[19]

The most popular annual frits and vegetables in terms of area planted are corn, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, squash, artichoke, melons, carrots, green peas, watermelons, green beans, shell beans, and asparagus, all of which were planted on over 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) in 2007.  The most popular perennial fruits were table grapes, avocados, apples, plums, peaches, olives, walnuts, blueberries, kiwifruit, oranges, lemons, raspberries, almonds and pears, each of which was planted on 5,000 hectares or more.[20]

But these data can be misleading; Chile exported 65% of its fruits and vegetables in 2003 (up from 40% in 1995; resulting in a 22% decrease in domestic fruit availability in spite of increased production[21]), so production choices reflect export preferences rather than simply local ones.  Never the less, all the fruits and vegetables above are regularly available in local farmers markets, most at very reasonable prices; blueberries and raspberries show up in small quantities and are expensive. 

Potato consumption in Chile averages 55 kg per person per year[22], considerably higher than the Latin American and world averages (21 kg. and 31 kg. respectively), but lower than N. American (60 kg.) and European averages (88 kg.)[23]  A choice of puré (mashed potatoes), plain boiled potatoes, or French fries, is usually available with any main course in Chilean restaurants.

Legumes, primarily beans and lentils, are very much a part of Chile’s culinary tradition, as reflected in the popular saying “more Chilean than beans.” (See  Eating Chilean Beans: Porotos Granados and others)  In 1935 the Chilean journal Social Service published A study of the situation of one family” which included estimates of monthly expenditures, including “10 kg of beans.”[24]   But they now provide only a very small proportion of Chile’s calories, 2% in 1998. In 2006 annual consumption of dry beans was 1.5 kg per capita, down from 4 kg. 15 years earlier.[25]  In 1997 household expenses for beans were down 45% from 10 years earlier, and were not listed in the food expenditures survey report, presumably because they were below the cutoff at 0.8%

What Chileans eat 5: Dairy products and eggs

2001 FAO data show that 7% of Chilean calorie consumption came from dairy products and eggs (USA 10.5%).  On the expenditures side, milk accounted for 2.2% of 1997 food budgets; cheese, 2.6%; powdered milk, 1.4%; yogurt, 1.2%; and eggs, 1.2%, for a total of 8.6%. 

Chile’s milk consumption in 2009 was 128 lt. per person; the World Health Organization recommends 160 lt.[26]  (USA 2003, 84 lt. down for a 1945 peak of 179 lt.[27]) It is available in all types, from whole to non-fat and flavored, and most milk is ultra pasteurized, so it needs no refrigeration if unopened and has a shelf life of 6 months. Prices average around 500 CPL/lt. ($.90 qt.). Cheese consumption was 5 kg in 2007[28] (USA 2003, 13.6 kg [29]).  Households surveyed in 1997 spent 2.4 to 3% of their food pesos on cheese, though for the lowest quintile, this was only 2,700 CLP, less that half the 6,000 CLP spent by the most affluent quintile. Common cheese (not processed) costs about 4,000 CLP/kg. ($3.60/lb.)

Fried fish a lo pobre.  Photo

And Chileans ate 175 eggs per year in 2007, up 6% in the last 10 years[30] (USA, estimate 259, 2007[31]).  Eggs are currently around 1,400 CLP/dozen ($2.80).

Eggs are not a part of the Chilean breakfast, but they are popular at other meals.  Lomo a lo pobre (literally “steak, poor man’s style”, i.e. topped with fired eggs) is on virtually every menu and almost anything can be ordered a lo pobre, (including pizza).  Tortillas, omelets with eggs and potatoes or vegetables are also common almuerzo and supper dishes.

What Chileans eat away from home.

Photo: Chile Hoy
 “70% of TV ads for children are for fast food”

The 1997 food expense survey (Crovetto M. & M. Mirta. 2002) also asked about meals eaten away from home.  The most common was almuerzo, eaten between 1:00 and 3:00 and traditionally the main meal of the day.  The average household surveyed spent 10% of their food pesos on these meals, increasing regularly form 3% in the poorest 20% of households to 17.7% in the most affluent.

In the two lowest quintiles, lunches and meals away from home would be meat-filled empanadas; a completo Italiano [hotdog with mayonnaise, avocado and tomato]; humitas [tamales]; sopapillas [fried breads]; chicken with French fries; or a fast food combo with cheese, mayonnaise, catsup and a carbonated drink.  For the third quintile, a light lunch would be an empanada and tea; a completo and tea; chicken with French fries; or a cheeseburger, drink and French fries.  For the fourth quintile it would be chicken with French fires, Chinese food, pizza, or a hamburger with avocado and tomato, and a drink.  The most affluent quintile would have a menú ejecutiva [“executive lunch,” a set menu of first and main course, dessert and often a drink, beer, wine or bottled water], lomo a lo pobre, chicken and French fires, pizza, or a vegetarian plate.  All these accompanied by tea, coffee, carbonated beverage or juice, and in the case of the sandwiches and French fries with mayonnaise or catsup. (Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine)

The consequences

From Chile's Merco Press:

Chile is among the top five nations leading the world in childhood obesity, according to new statistics released by Junaeb, a Chilean organization focused on children and education.

Approximately 18% of Chilean students are obese, compared to the current rate of 16% in the U.S. That Chile has surpassed even the U.S. in levels of childhood obesity particularly worries health experts, given that the U.S. is generally said to be suffering from a national "obesity epidemic."  This announcement follows a report this week by Nutrimóvil of Nestlé that Santiago residents exceed a healthy body mass index by an average of three points. The study attributes Santiago's obesity problem in part to the sedentary lifestyle many residents lead.

An astounding 91.2% of Chileans said they never participated in any form of physical activity, according to the 2000 National Health Survey, released in 2003. The study also found that 61.3% of Chileans are overweight.[32]



A Power Point summary of The Chilean National Food Consumption Survey of 2010-2011 (Encuesta Nacional de Consumo de Alimentos 2010-2011)  Aafter reading this post you won't find too many surprises, but it's good to have more recent data.  

Some highlights:  

Men are reported to average  2210 calories per day and 73 grams of protein while women average 1561 calories and 52 grams of protein.

People eating over 110% of their recommended caloric intake include:

 16% of urban and 28% of rural people,
 12% of people in the top socioeconomic category,
  31% of those in the lowest socioeconomic categor,
  29% of children 4 to 5 years old,
  27% of girls 14 to 18,
  23% of women 19 to 30,
  6% of men 19 to 30, and 
 25% of men 31 to 50.

Chilean meal patters are:

      breakfast, between 8:00 and 10:00, eaten by 90% of the population
      almuerzo ("lunch," the main meal of the day) between 1:00 and 2:00 pm,    eaten by 96% 
       onces  ("tea") at 6:00 to 8:00 pm eaten by 82% of the population  
       Cena  ("supper") between 8:00 and 10:00, is eaten by only 30% of the population, but another 31% have an evening "snack" (colación)  at that hour.

[1] Avilés, Hardy. 2002 Cordero todo el año. Campo Sureño, on line at
[2] Chile Poultry Livestock and Products Production 2008, The Poultry Site, on line at
[3] Jordan, Jane. 2007. Aquaculture hot spots: China and Latin America. The Fish Site. On line at
[4] Bread consumption in Chile, Latin Panel. On line at [link broken, accessed 10/22/2009]
[5] This and other % of food expenditure data is from Crovetto M., M. Mirta. 2002. Cambios en la estructura alimentaria y consumo aparente de nutrientes de los hogares del gran santiago 1988-1997. Rev. Chil. Nutr. [online]. 2002, vol.29, n.1 pp. 24-32 . Available from: <>.
[6] Bread consumption in Chile, op. cit.
[7] This and other figures for caloric contribution to US food supply are from “U.S. food supply: Nutrients contributed from major food groups, per capita per day, 1970 and 20001.” Nutrient Availability Spreadsheet. On line at
[8] While some families do eat 4 meals per day, it is common to combine onces and cena, eating some reheated leftovers from almuerzo along with bread and cold cuts, or to eat one or the other.
[9] Perfiles Nutricionales por Países – CHILE Octubre 2001, FAO Rome. On Line at
[10]Crece el Consumo de Bebidas y Aguas. On line at
[11] Food Statistics. Soft drink consumption (most recent) by country. Nation On line at
[12] Avilés, Hardy 202 op. cit.
[13] Chilenos consumen aún seis veces más carne pese a avance de pescados y mariscos. 13/08/09 Estrategia Online Chile. On line at,5310,5280449_5282927_5284940_4243009_CL,00.html
[14] Chile poultry livestock… op. cit.
[15] Chilenos consumen… op. cit. ; ¡Vengüenza nacional! Chilenos sólo comen 7 kilos de pescados al año. La Cuarta.  Miércoles 5 de Mayo de 2010.  On line at

 [16] Chile GDP - per capita (PPP) Index Mundi On line at
[17] Mendoza V., Carolina, Anna Christina Pinheiro F. Hugo Amigo C. 2007. Evolución de la situación alimentaria en Chile. Revista Chilena de Nutrición, marzo, año/vol. 34, número 001 On line at
[18] Análisis de Aceites de Origen Vegetal. 2008 On line at
[19] Olivares C., Sonia & Nelly Bustos Z. 2006. Consumo de verduras y frutas en grupos específicos de consumidores chilenos: elementos a considerar en su promoción. Rev Chil Nutr Vol. 33, Suplemento Nº1. On line at
[20] Chilean Agriculture Overview, 2009. Agarian Policies and Studies Bureau, Ministerio de Agricultura. On line at
[21] Mendoza V. op. cit.
[22] La papa en Chile. 2007. CVTA. On line at
[23] Potato world, International Year of the Potato 2008. on line at
[24] Carreño, B. 1935 Estudio de la situación de una familia. Servicio Social 9(4):309-316. On line at
[25] Presentarán nuevas variedades de porotos en Día de Campo (viernes 27 de enero). Portal INIA, Quilamapu. On line at.
[26] Gasto de chilenos en lácteos bajó 10,3% en 2009. 2010. Chile Potencia Alimentaria. On line at
[27] Graph: “Per Capita Consumption of Fluid Milk 1980-2003” On line at
[28] Una mirada diferente al consumo de lácteos en Chile. 2008. On line at
[29] Trends in U.S. Per Capita Consumption of Dairy Products, 1909 to 2001. 2003. Amber Waves (USDA) On line at
[30] Consumo de Productos Avícolas en Latinoamérica. On line at
[31] Farm Animal Statistics: Dairy and Egg Consumption. Factory Farming., 2006. On line at
[32]Childhood obesity controversy in Chile. Merco Press, Thursday, July 6th 2006. On line at


  1. I just wanted to drop you a note and thank you for this blog. I'm from the United States and have been living in Santiago for just over 6 months. As someone who enjoys cooking and exploring new ingredients, this has been a great resource. Almost every time I search for information on something new I found, I wind up here.


  2. Laura,

    I'm glad it has been useful to you. I started it for the same reasons you keep finding it; I like cooking and wanted to know about the new foods I was finding.

    Best wishes and thanks for writing.

  3. This is great information. I just found this blog and I can't get off...thank you.

  4. I know what you mean; I've been at it for over a year. ;-)

  5. The detailed information about Chileans food is very help- and usefull for us, beauce we have a lot of Chileans customers who like to eat food homelike. Many thanks!

  6. Thanks. Give them pastel de choclo and cazuela and they will be very happy.

    best wishes - Jim

  7. Finally, someone who knows what they are talking about! Thnks, this information is going to help me in my reaserch projet. You are deffinantly a referance I will use!

  8. Good, glad it is useful. But don't forget the citation! (And watch those typos.)

    Best wishes - Professor Stuart ;-)

  9. Muy buena información! Te felicito.
    Anna Christina Pinheiro.


Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim