The Flavorful Types of Mexican Spices, Herbs and More
It is true that many traditional Mexican recipes are spiced but this is not the same as saying they are “spicy.” A lot of people believe that all Mexican dishes are hot and packed with chilies but this is not the case. Some Mexican recipes like burritos, enchiladas and Mexican salad recipes are mild or feature aromatic herbs and spices rather than potent ones.
What's in this awesome article...
- The Flavorful Types of Mexican Spices, Herbs and More
- The Importance of Chilies in Mexican Food
- Adding Flavor to Mexican Dishes
- How to Use a Mexican Spice Blend
- Why Chili Powder is Widely Used
- Anocho Chili Powder What Makes it Mexican
- How Coriander Adds a Fragrant Flavor
- Cumin Adds to the Hot Taste
- How Cinnamon Enhances Mexican Cookery
- Less Common Spices – Epazote, Cocoa and Avocado Leaves
- Mexican Spice Blends Such as Recado Rojo
The Importance of Chilies in Mexican Food
A lot of recipes do call for chilies because this is where a lot of the dish’s flavor comes from. You can always use less chili than the recipes says, if you really do not want a strong flavor.
Chilies in cans and jars are usually milder than fresh chilies. Green Tabasco sauce, canned green chilies, mild enchilada sauce, chili powder, and mild green taco sauce are good options for a milder chili taste.
Adding Flavor to Mexican Dishes
It is a good idea to learn about some of the more popular herbs and spices used in Mexican recipes if you want your food to have a good, traditional flavor. A dash of ancho chili or a few cilantro leaves can add authenticity to a Mexican recipe and these ingredients are not hard to find.
Remember that the quality of the spices and herbs you use can make or break your dish. There is no point in making an authentic Mexican recipe and then throwing in some chili powder, which is a year past its expiry date, or using ground coriander instead of fresh cilantro. Coriander and cilantro might be in the same family but they have very different uses when it comes to Mexican food recipes. If you cannot find the right ingredient, or a good replacement, you might want to make another dish.
How to Use a Mexican Spice Blend
You can either use a “Mexican seasoning” blend, which is a mixture of Mexican spices to add a Mexican flavor to your meat, fish, or vegetable dishes or make your own spice blends. Combine various types of chili powder or spices to make a tasty spice blend and then keep it somewhere cool and dark, in an airtight container. You will probably only need to use a pinch at a time and spice blends keep for months.
Once spices start to lose their smell and color though, it is time to throw them out. Some spices simply lose their flavor and others become bitter if they get old. When in doubt, use new spices.
Since a jar of spice is, only a couple of dollars and you will only need half a teaspoon or so at a time, spices are very economical and they are often very important in the flavor of a finished dish.
Why Chili Powder is Widely Used
Chili powder, sometimes spelled chile powder, is a key ingredient in many Mexican food recipes. It adds flavor to meat, fowl, and vegetables. Chili peppers can be used whole or ground into chili powder. Chili peppers can be used to flavor a dish and then removed or the powder or peppers themselves can be used as a recipe ingredient. There are various types of chilis in different powders, including Chipotle, which is made from dried, smoked jalapeños. Chipotle is more piquant than regular chili powder and is used to make Mexican adobo sauce. Chili powder is a blend of dried, powdered chilies, oregano, and cumin.
Anocho Chili Powder What Makes it Mexican
Anocho is another type of chili powder, which has a sweet, fruit-like aroma and flavor. Pasilla chile powder is medium hot and adds a rich flavor to beans and sauces. Juajillo chile powder is very piquant and should be used sparingly. Green chile powder is very tasty but it is seasonal so you might not be able to get it throughout the year. If you are looking for a chili powder recipe, you will not have to look far because many Mexican recipes feature this exciting spice.
How Coriander Adds a Fragrant Flavor
Another favorite when it comes to Mexican spices is coriander, also called cilantro. Widely used in Caribbean and Asian recipes as well as Mexican cuisine, coriander gives a pungent taste. Coriander is used to flavor various recipes such as burritos, meat dishes, salsas and can also be used in salads. It comes in fresh or dried varieties.
Cumin Adds to the Hot Taste
Cumin is a dry seed, which is used to make chili powder and curry powder. It has been used in Mexico for hundreds of years and has a toasty, slightly bitter flavor. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East. Cumin is one of the most popular Mexican spices. Dishes containing cumin include enchiladas, chalupas, and various rice dishes. Cumin is a hearty spice and a little does go a long way.
How Cinnamon Enhances Mexican Cookery
Cinnamon is often used in sweet treats such as dessert empanadas or Mexican fried ice cream recipes. It goes very well with fruit, especially apple and pear. Cinnamon can be used in savory recipes and goes very well with tomato-based dishes. It can be infused in its stick form or ground to make a powder. A softer version of cinnamon is called canella. This variety comes from Ceylon rather than Malabar and also suits Mexican cookery.
Less Common Spices – Epazote, Cocoa and Avocado Leaves
Epazote, also called “Mexican tea,” is not a common spice but does feature in some Mexican food recipes. It is a strong spice, which is toxic in large amounts but, when used correctly, can add flavor to bean dishes. Epazote is good to soothe intestinal pain caused by overindulgence in the beans. There are different epazote varieties, some of which have the smell and flavor of citrus and others, which are more like mint.
Cocoa is used in Mexican cookery, to add a warm flavor to both savory and sweet recipes. Small amounts of cocoa and peanut butter are added to over thirty different spices to make mole, a thick sauce, which goes well with chicken.
Avocado leaves are toasted then ground to a powder using a mortar and pestle. Their fragrance is reminiscent of hazelnut and anise. They are used in Mexican soups and stews, fish, or chicken dishes and in mole.
Mexican Spice Blends Such as Recado Rojo
A popular spice blend often used in the Yucatan area is recado rojo, which dates back to Mayan times. It contains annatto seeds, which give it, and the resulting recipe, a red color. Spices found in recado rojo include cloves, cumin, oregano, garlic, and cinnamon. American Indians used to use annatto seeds to make body paint.
Another popular spice blend is made by mixing cornstarch, chili powder, salt, paprika, sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and cumin. Dry spice blend mixtures can be stored for months in an airtight jar and don’t lose their potency as long as they are kept dry and away from excessive light or heat. Spice blends can be rubbed on to meat or fish before cooking it or used in sauces or in other recipes.