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What Is a Pionono?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 16, 2024
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A pionono is any one of a number of food items found in one or another Spanish-speaking country. The common factor among them is that they are, in some way, rolled up during preparation. In Spain itself, a pionono is a sweet pastry, while in South America it is a sponge cake rolled around either sweet or savory fillings. Caribbean piononos are made with plantains. There is no agreement about where the name originated, but in Spanish “pio nono” means "pious nine," and many believe that a baker in Spain originated the name pionono for his version of the sweet pastry in honor of Pope Pius IX.

In the Granada and Andalusia regions of Spain, a pionono is a small sweet pastry with a shell soaked in honey-based syrup, filled with a cream mixture, and topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon. The honey and cinnamon flavor combination dates back at least to the 10th century, during the Moorish occupation of Spain. Piononos as they are now made, however, probably originated in the late 1800s.

Several South American countries, including Argentina, Peru and Uruguay, know the pionono as a lightly sweetened thin sponge cake rolled around a filling and cut into slices like a jelly roll. The same sweetened cake layer is used for both sweet and savory fillings. Rolls used as desserts are often filled with dulce de leche, a thick milk-caramel filling. Other sweet options include various whipped cream and fruit mixtures, jams, or chocolate cream.

Savory piononos can be made with any sandwich filling. Classic mixtures include a variety of cheeses, such as Swiss, and ham, hard-boiled eggs, roasted red peppers and green olives. Mayonnaise is a common addition along with lettuce, tomato and blue cheese.

In the Caribbean piononos have a savory filling and the rolls around the fillings are plantain, a type of banana that must be cooked before eating. Yellow stage plantains are peeled, sliced lengthwise, fried until pliable, then rolled into circles and filled. The ends are dipped in egg or a flour and egg mixture and the roll is pan-fried on both sides to seal in the fillings. In Puerto Rico, the entire pionono is sometimes deep-fried.

Beef fillings are popular, especially those like picadillo, where the meat is mixed with spices, green olives and raisins. Other possibilities include cheese, chicken lobster, shrimp or vegetable fillings. Yellow stage plantains are sweet, so, like the South American savory pionono, these use a sweet and savory flavor combination.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1007179 — On Jun 12, 2022

History of food never ceases to surprise me. I thought Piononos were Puerto Rican, but they are actually international. Originating in Spain. I still think Puerto Rican Piononos are the best!

By lighth0se33 — On Aug 31, 2011

The most delicious pionono I have ever eaten was filled with chocolate truffle cream. My friend’s Spanish housekeeper made them, and she showed us how she did it.

She fried the plaintain slices and set them aside to drain. For the filling, she put a mixture of semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips in a big bowl. She brought one-third cup of heavy cream to a boil and poured it over the chips. She let it stand for 60 seconds.

Then, she used a whisk to blend the chocolate and cream. She kept whisking until no lumps were left. She then put the bowl in the refrigerator for 45 minutes so that the chocolate could solidify.

Once it was firm, she took it out and beat it until the color lightened and it formed stiff peaks. Then, she stuffed it inside the plaintains. The combination of fried banana and light, airy chocolate made the most perfect dessert.

By cloudel — On Aug 31, 2011

I use my cousin’s piononos recipe for beef plaintain piononos. When I first read it, I thought that bananas and meat would taste weird together, but it turned out to be quite good. I make it about once a week for dinner.

First, I slice the plaintains and fry them in oil until they are brown. I take them out and drain them on paper towels. I fold them into cones and secure them with a toothpick.

Then, I fill them with beef seasoned with cumin, chili powder, salt, and garlic powder. I sprinkle in some chopped onions and bell peppers.

Finally, I cook the piononos in hot oil until the beef is done. This is the most flavorful type of pionono I have ever tasted.

By orangey03 — On Aug 30, 2011

I absolutely love plantain piononos filled with chocolate cream. They fill me up so quickly that I often cannot eat an entire one, but the bites I can consume put me in a state of absolute bliss.

I have always loved bananas dipped in chocolate, so naturally, I love this type of pionono. I had never eaten a cooked banana until I tried this, and now, I am addicted.

I once had a plaintain pionono with chopped strawberries mixed in with the chocolate cream. This was excellent, but I am a purist when it comes to chocolate, so I prefer it straight.

By Oceana — On Aug 29, 2011

Sweet piononos are good, but my favorite types are the savory ones filled with seafood. I can’t get enough of these.

I like to use ground shrimp in my pionono. When they are in tiny pieces, it is harder for them to fall out around the edges.

I also use a tiny bit of low-fat mayonnaise to help the stuff stick together. I sometimes sprinkle the ground shrimp mixture with old bay seasoning for extra flavor. I eat this pionono for lunch frequently.

I also love to use imitation crab meat and finely chopped cucumbers in a pionono. The light taste is satisfying without being overly filling.

By julies — On Aug 29, 2011

I had no idea what a pionono was and had never even heard of the word until I enrolled in an international cooking class.

In this class we learned about the history of piononos, and made several different varieties of them.

Since I have a big sweet tooth, I think my favorite was those that were made with a sponge cake and had a sweet, fruity filling. I like the combination of a light cream and any kind of fresh fruit that is in season.

Strawberries and bananas with a little bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top is one of the best. It never hurts to have a light honey syrup drizzled over the top either.

By bagley79 — On Aug 29, 2011

I don't think I have ever tried a pionono that I didn't like. There is no end to the ways you can make them or the fillings you put in them.

If you like to entertain, they make a wonderful finger food. You can choose to go with something that is light and sweet, or you can go with something that is more hearty and includes a meat and cheese filling.

One of my favorite pionono recipes is made with fried plantains and filled with cheddar cheese. The melted cheese filling inside the crisp plantain is perfect for any cheese lover.

By letshearit — On Aug 28, 2011

You can find pionono in the Philippines as well, though it is more like the Swiss roll that is popular in a lot of countries. Pionono in the Philippines is made up of a pastry roll with a filling that is usually sweet.

Pionono in the Philippines is a great dessert if you are looking for something cheap to take back to your hotel room. They are available at most bakeries.

When my girlfriend and I were traveling through the Philippines one of our favorite things to do was to split a pionono after dinner and seeing how many different kinds we could find. You would be surprised at the number of fruits that can be made into sweet fillings.

By wander — On Aug 27, 2011

A pionono is a great thing to sample if you get a chance. For myself I like the variety available in the Caribbean. I had the opportunity to vacation in Puerto Rico and you can find the most delicious pionono there. Our hotel always had a few different varieties available around breakfast time and sometimes at lunch.

In Puerto Rico the pionono can have both plantains in it, as well as meat and spices. The kind I tried was made with ground lamb. It was very tasty and was pretty inexpensive when you consider the sizes of the hotel servings. It was a great deal.

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