Copycat Trader Joe's Sweet Corn Arepa (Arepas de Choclo)



The most typical arepa that you will find on the back of commercial masarepa packages and from top search results, is a three-ingredient cornbread.  You mix masarepa (precooked cornmeal), water, and salt. Grill the cornbread on a griddle, slices it up like an english muffin, and stuff it with various meats and veggies. This classic a savory sandwich is absolutely delicious in its own way, yet will not hit the spot if the Trader Joe's version is what you're trying to replicate at home. 

Turns out, there are many styles and variations of arepas. The TJ's version is closer to Arepas de Choclo, sweet corn cakes served with cheese.  The sweetness is largely imparted by grounded sweet corn in place of cornmeal. While both varieties are basically ground up corn made into patties, timing of the grounds makes a big difference. When corns reach peak sugar development, or are picked off the plant, enzymes in the corn immediately begins to convert sugar in the kernel into starch. Heirloom species would have half the sugar converted into starch in as little as a day. Even the genetically modified US style sweet corn will eventually get starchier and less sweet, albeit over a slower process. This sugar conversion enzyme action is why commercial cornmeal, whether it's polenta or grits or masa harina, or whole popcorn kernels, are basically never sweet. I used to think they're a different species from the everyday corns we eat; turns out field corn and sweet corn come from the same crop, just picked at different time.

TJ's version uses more sweet corn than masarepa. Both off-the-cobb and frozen sweet corns can produce the same fresh corn flavor. Frozen sweet corns are boiled and flash frozen as soon as they were picked, which deactivates the enzymes and retains the sweet flavor. The sweet arepas are made from blending sweet corn with water into a puree, and then hydrating masarepa with the puree. Because the sugar-to-starch enzyme action hadn't happened in a good portion of its ground corn, additional starch is added to boost the binding strength. Trader Joe's uses tapioca starch because it freezes better and retains texture after thawing. For fresh patties, of course the more ubiquitous, good old corn starch will work as a substitute. I mean, it is a corn dish after all. Just substitute in 2 part tapioca to 1 part corn starch ratio, since corn starch is a much stronger thickener. 

Masarepa has no real substitute. It is precooked corn, which allows these patties to cook up very quickly like pancakes. Raw corn flours will not have the same effect, even the 'instant' varieties won't be the same. They're not terribly hard to find in the Mexican food aisles of the grocery. If your local grocery doesn't carry them, amazon has them for a reasonable price. As the cornmeal is precooked, the sweet corn needs to be precooked too so everything cooks up at the same speed. Frozen sweet corns are already boiled; if using fresh corn off the cob, be sure to steam/boil/microwave first to cook them thoroughly before blending. 


  • 200g water
  • 150g frozen sweet corn
  • 120g masarepa (precooked cornmeal)
  • 10g (1tbsp) tapioca starch
  • 8~15g (1/2~1tbsp) sugar, depending on sweetness of corn 
  • 2g (1/4 tsp) salt
  • 100g (3x1oz slices) low moisture mozzarella cheese 
* makes 6 patties, or 3 sandwiches

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients: masarepa, tapioca starch, sugar, & salt.
  2. Blend sweet corn with water until smooth. 
  3. Mix the wet mixture and the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. 
  4. Let the mixture rest for ~3 minutes, or until thickened.
  5. Divide the dough into 6 portions.
  6. Shape each portion into a patty with a burger press or wide jar lid. 
  7. Brush both sides of the patties with oil. Fry until lightly browned on both sides.
  8. Add 1oz cheese between 2 patties and cook until cheese begins to melt. 
  9. Remove from heat as soon as cheese begins to melt. The residual heat from the fresh cooked patties will heat up the cheese further. So pull the sandwich off the stove a little earlier than you normally would with frozen arepas. 
  10. Enjoy! Freeze the leftovers for another quick snack. Feel free to double the recipe for meal prep! 

Video Instructions