Mexico’s Spices Are Diverse and Dynamic

Various Spices on grunge background

Over the past year, FoodTrients has been exploring foods and flavors from around the globe. This week, we take a look at the flavors of Mexico as part of our new series on the world of foods, herbs and spices that help create some of the distinctive dishes we have featured, and the age-defying benefits they deliver.

A cuisine with influences from Spain combined with foods from indigenous people, Mexican food is diverse and dynamic. Foods like achiotes, onions, beans, and meats like chicken and pork are commonly eaten and often used to make chorizo, a seasoned meat dish. Corn is considered a staple in Mexican cuisine and most often used to make tortillas and pozole, a popular corn stew made with peppers, chiles, and meat. Fruits and vegetables are also commonly incorporated into meals as many are native to the land. Green tomatoes, avocados, papaya, and nopales, the pads of the prickly pear cactus, are enjoyed often and pair well with other spices common to this cuisine like peppers, cilantro, and pepitas.

Achiote Seeds in a Bowl

Achiote

Also known as annatto, this bright red seed is used in natural medicine to ease gastrointestinal discomfort and nausea. It can also be made into a paste and applied to the skin to help with burns and rashes. In Mexian cuisine, it is used as a primary ingredient in achiote paste or oil, which adds a spicy peppery taste to rice dishes, marinades, meat rubs, and stews.

Red chili pepper flakes shot from above

Chile Peppers

Chile peppers are a staple in Mexican cuisine and may be used medicinally, too, as they help release dopamine, a hormone that may ease pain and help with brain health. In the kitchen, these peppers are incorporated into a variety of Mexican dishes like enchiladas and al pastor. They also can be dried and used to season soups, stews, sauces, and marinades.

Chipotle Chili Powder Spilled from a Teaspoon

Chipotle Peppers

Used medicinally to help with digestion and pain relief, these unique peppers are another staple in Mexican cuisine. Chipotle peppers are actually ripened jalapeno peppers that are dried and smoked, giving them their signature rich, smoky flavor. They can be finely ground and used as a meat rub, or added to a variety of sauces, salsas, bean dishes, and soups.

Fresh coriander, cilantro leaves on basket

Cilantro

Cilantro comes from the coriander plant and is a relative to parsley. Medicinally it may be used to help remove heavy metals from the body because it aids in detoxification. In Mexican cuisine, cilantro is used in many dishes, adding a unique peppery flavor. It is commonly used as a garnish and in fresh salsas in some regions.

Stink weed or coriander or cilantro

Culantro

A family member of cilantro, culantro is used in natural medicine for pain relief and its anti-inflammatory benefits. With a taste similar to cilantro but stronger and more pungent, this herb should only be added to dishes during cooking due to its intense flavor. In Mexico, culantro is often used in soups, sauces, and meat dishes.

Mexican epazote herb on wooden background

Epazote

Epazote is an herb that has been used not only in the kitchen but in natural medicine throughout the southern parts of Mexico and Guatemala to treat intestinal parasites. It is not commonly used in modern day due to the risk of toxicity if overly consumed. Epazote is a bitter aromal herb that is most commonly added to frijoles de la olla, a dish with beans, onion, and garlic. It has a pungent flavor.

Hibiscus tea in black bowl. Slate background. Close up.

Hibiscus Flowers

Medicinally, flowers from the hibiscus plant may be used for colds and respiratory infections, and may even have anticancer effects due to their rich antioxidant content. In the kitchen you will find them made into an iced tea drink called agua de Jamaica, or added to dishes like quesadillas or tacos to give a light and sweet floral taste and beautiful crimson color.

Organic Green Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapeno Peppers

These spicy peppers may be used medicinally for pain relief and to help with digestion. They also have a high amount of antioxidant vitamin C, and contain important minerals like magnesium, and potassium. In cooking, jalapenos add a good amount of spiciness to foods such as salsas, salads, and even hot sauces. They can be stuffed and baked or fried as well.

Raw Green Organic Pumpkin Seed Nuggets

Pepitas

Pepitas are the smaller seeds inside the larger, fibrous pumpkin seed. They can be used in natural medicine for their antiviral and antifungal properties as well as their high antioxidant content. They also contain zinc, which can be part of optimizing the immune system and avoiding deficiency. In the kitchen, pepitas are used in a variety of ways such as roasted and eaten as a snack or used as a garnish to add a crunchy texture to a dish. They can also be incorporated into sauces like green mole, and other dishes to add a nutty and sweet flavor.

fresh sweet ripe tamarind with leaf,selective focus, healthy fruit,tamarind fruits and green leaves on red bowl,organic tamarind nature,

Tamarind

This pod from the tamarind tree may be used medicinally to aid constipation, reduce fevers, and may be helpful for nausea. While cooking Mexican cuisine, this sour fruit can be added to all types of dishes, marinades, and sauces. It can be used in drinks such as agua de tamarindo, which uses tamarind pods, water, and sugar, blending them into a tart, but sweet drink.

References

Food in Every Country. Mexico. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Kazakhstan-to-South-Africa/Mexico.html. Accessed 1/29/21.

Spruce Eats. Achiote. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-achiote-or-annatto-2138265. Updated 8/31/20. Accessed 1/28/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Annatto.

https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=23. Updated 10/9/20. Accessed 1/28/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Cilantro. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1533. Updated 10/2/20. Accessed 1/28/21.

Spruce Eats. Culantro. https://www.thespruceeats.com/is-culantro-the-same-as-cilantro-1807011. Updated 7/9/20. Accessed 1/28/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Hibiscus. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=211. Updated 2/14/20. Accessed 1/03/21. Spruce Eats. Jalapeno Peppers. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-jalapeno-peppers-995728. Updated 7/21/20. Accessed 1/29/21.

Spruce Eats. Pepitas. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-are-pepitas-1328664. Updated 7/21/20. Accessed 1/30/28

Spruce Eats. Tamarind. https://www.thespruceeats.com/tamarind-mexican-fruit-4082438. Updated 4/1/19. Accessed 1/29/31.

Natural Medicines Database. Tamarind. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=819. Updated 12/7/20. Accessed 1/28/21.

Natural Medicines Database. Vanilla. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=206. Updated 1/21/21. Accessed 1/28/21. Spruce Eats. Hot Chile Pepper. https://www.thespruceeats.com/fresh-hot-chiles-2215963. Updated 9/20/19. Accessed 1/28/21.

Spruce Eats. Epazote. https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-epazote-4126810. Updated 6/23/20. Accessed 1/30/21.

About Ginger Hultin, MS RDN CSO

Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger's blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Ginger Hultin MS RD CSO LDN gingerhultin@hotmail.com | @GingerHultinRD Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group ChampagneNutrition.com  
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