Panna Cotta vs. Flan: Differences & Which Is Better?

panna cotta vs flan
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When you look at panna cotta and flan, you might think that it is the same dessert in question due to their extremely similar look. Many people do not even notice the differences that are present between them, so it is quite a shock when they realize that they are actually two separate desserts. So, what are the differences between panna cotta and flan, and which of these desserts is considered better? 

Panna cotta is a dessert from Italy, while flan is mostly common in the Mexican regions. Both desserts have the same custard-like look, meaning that they usually have the same shape which stands up. However, panna cotta uses gelatin as a base ingredient, so it is lighter than flan.

To understand the main differences between panna cotta and flan, you have to make a clear and precise comparison. These desserts are quite similar. However, they include some differences that might make a change to your diet or taste. Therefore, below, I have provided a close comparison between panna cotta and flan, so you would be able to distinguish them in the future and determine which one is more suitable for you. 

What Are the Differences Between Panna Cotta And Flan? 

If you have tried both panna cotta and flan, you have probably realized that they taste quite similar, and sometimes it is difficult to make the difference. However, it is important to remember that these two are separate desserts and they have some unique features, so they should not be regarded as the same. Below, I have included some differences that will make the distinction between panna cotta and flan clearer. 

These differences come due to variations of origin, ingredients, ways of preparation, and taste. Therefore, I have provided everything you need to know about these details, meaning once you read about it, you will be aware of the kinds of desserts you eat. 


When it comes to ingredients, the first thing you have to remember is that both panna cotta and flan contain very simple ingredients. Even though their structure seems complex when you look at them, their ingredients are nothing uncommon. Most of the ingredients included in these desserts are the same. However, certain differences make them unique.

Regular panna cotta consists of gelatin, sugar, vanilla, and cream. The characteristic of panna cotta is that the base of the dessert is made of gelatin, which is why this sweet treat can hold up. On the other hand, flan is made of eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cream, meaning that the eggs are the ingredients that make flan stand up. 

In other words, the gelatin and the eggs are the only ingredients that make panna cotta and flan different. These ingredients are used to thicken the desserts and hold the ingredients together. However, they give the same feeling in the mouth, which is why people sometimes cannot tell the difference between panna cotta and flan. 


Even the name of panna cotta suggests that this dessert is Italian, so it is not strange when you hear that its origin is from Italy. However, there is not much information about the early stages of this dessert since it became popular around the 20th century. Nowadays, panna cotta is not only popular in Italy, but it is spread all around the world. 

On the other hand, when it comes to flan, several stories and several countries claim that this dessert originated from their regions. One thing is certain – the first versions of flan had appeared in the Roman Empire, and from that point on it has been adjusted and alternated by many cultures and regions. Today, flan is mostly connected to Mexican culture, meaning that it is commonly served in Mexican restaurants. 

Preparation Process 

Even though panna cotta and flan have the same structure, that does not mean that they are prepared in the same way. If you consider the ingredients used in both of them, then it would be only logical to assume that they require different preparation processes. In other words, you might use the same basic ingredients, but you will not combine them in the same way.

Therefore, when it comes to panna cotta, it is important to point out that if you translate the name, it would mean “cooked cream”, and there is a perfect reason for this. Namely, in order to make panna cotta, you would need an oven or a different source of heat that will enable you to reach the texture and structure you need for this dessert. So, you would need first to warm the cream, and later mix it with sugar. 

Panna cotta also allows the addition of different flavors, so you can choose how you want your dessert to taste. Gelatin is added to the mixture in the end, before transferring it to mold to set. Once it is set, panna cotta becomes smooth and wobbly.

In contrast, flan is prepared in a different way since much of the attention is focused on the presentation of this dessert. For the flan, you do not need an oven, but a stovetop for a so-called “hot bath” since this is how this dessert is prepared. More precisely, you would first need to caramelize the sugar, pour it into molds, and then place them over the stovetop. 

However, you can also use the oven, but that would not be the proper way of preparing this dessert. In the end, you need to turn the flan upside down from the mold since this is how this dessert is served properly.


The taste is quite similar in both panna cotta and flan; therefore, not many people feel the difference between these two desserts. Since both consist of cream and give a similar feel in the mouth, they are commonly regarded as variations of the same dessert. However, there are a few differences that make them distinct in taste. 

For instance, when you eat panna cotta, you can taste the abundance of dairy inside of it. Also, it can come in many flavors, so it can taste different each time you try a different type of the same dessert. 

On the other hand, the dominant taste in flan is the taste of caramel. In addition, there is the scent of nuttiness in this dessert, unlike panna cotta, in which the milky scent is more present. 

Panna Cotta Vs. Flan: Which Is Better? 

When it comes to choosing the better dessert between panna cotta and flan, the choice is usually quite difficult since we are talking about different personal tastes. Therefore, you are the only one who can determine what suits your taste the best. However, since they share most features, there is a possibility to determine slightly better features in panna cotta than flan.

Therefore, the use of gelatin in panna cotta makes this dessert lighter, meaning that it does not make you full the minute you eat it. Also, since it allows the addition of different flavors, it can be said that panna cotta is the more versatile dessert, which is something that many people want in their treats. 

As you can see, it is quite difficult to determine which dessert is better between panna cotta and flan. However, if you take all of the differences into consideration you will be able to pick one of the two that suits your needs.