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Spices of Mexican Cuisine

Updated on April 30, 2012

Mexican seasoning combinations


Wonderful Spices of Mexico

From pre - Columbian times, spices have been used in Mexico for flavoring and coloring food. The Mexican cuisine would be nothing that it is today without its spices and herbs. Some of the very first spices of Mexico, as far as we can know, are allspice, achiote, the pod of the vanilla orchid, and of course as you can imagine, chiles. These wonderful spices are all natives of Mexico and tropical America.

Once the Spanish Invasion occurred they also began to use pepper, cinnamon and cloves which was brought to them through Nao de China. Nao de China was a merchant galleon, that traveled from the Philippines and Acapulco (the Pacific Port of Acapulco).

Later on, Coriander and Saffron were introduced, and then later cumin arrived on the scene through the Mediterranean. The spice trade sure helped to get these wonderful spices to whole new parts of the world. I for one, am so thankful for that!.

Like many other countries, what makes Mexico's spices special, is the way in which they use them with particular recipes and how they mix and use them together.  It is like their own unique signature.

Fun recipe calling for achiote paste

Part two, of recipe including fresh achiote paste

cloves of garlic
cloves of garlic

Ahciote and some other spices


This spice is a newer one to me, so I found it interesting to learn a bit more about it.  The annato seed is from the Bixa orellana tree, and is called achiote in Mexico.  It is used for not just flavoring, but coloring as well in Mexican cuisine.  It is a small tree, native of tropical America.  There are small seeds growing in the brown, rough skinned oval husks, which are about one and a half inches in length.  There is a layer of matte red pigment around these seeds, that is much sought after.   One variety of the tree, has a similar type of orange pigment, but its not as popular. 

You can use this seed in a couple of ways.  On the Yucatan Peninsula, they grind up the whole seed along with other spices.  They then take this and form it into a reddish paste, that has a lot of flavor, and is called recado rojo.  In other places like Tabasco, Chiapas, and the Isthmus of Oaxaca, the achiote is used in a much more pure and concentrated way.  They boil the seeds in water, for a long time, even hours until the water has evaporated.  This leaves a concentrated red dye.  As you can imagine, this form of achiote costs much more.  It does give a very nice and deeper color and flavor to the food though. 

Ginger has been known to be used, but often sparingly in certain moles in Oaxaca and Chiapas.  The other spices are more well known to many, such as allspice, aniseed, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, garlic, peppercorns, etc.  There is one more seasoning paste that is called recado, that depends on the particular cook and how they prepare their recado. 

On the whole, spices are not over done, or over used in Mexico.  They are often used even sparingly as they want the food itself to shine through and its ingredients to not be overpowered.  There is so much more that could be said on how Mexican cuisine is influenced by spices.  I love their cuisine, and hope to bring more authentic recipes into my life, as it is such a rich heritage.

Mexican Spices Poll

Do you enjoy the spices and herbs used in Mexian Cuisine?

See results


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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Allie, I am in agreement with you regarding loving the spices of Mexico. They sure know how to do "spicy" food well! There is something for all however, even the non spice lovers, and it is still very tasty. Thank you for your comment, and glad you found the hub interesting.

    • AllieRambles profile image

      AllieRambles 5 years ago from Bay Area, California

      I absolutely love the spices of Mexico! I love spicy food. Thanks for this interesting hub.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Pamela, thank you for your comment. I like spicy food, but I agree it can be hot, even for some that like it. I think that it is a taste that your body gets more used to, over time. Glad you stopped by.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 7 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Russell, thanks for your interesting post here, you touch on some great sounding dishes!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Interesting hub on Mexico spices. I have traveled there many times and there food is good except sometime they are a little too hot for my taste.

    • Russell-D profile image

      Russell-D 7 years ago from Southern Ca.

      Having had an office in Mexico City for 25 years, commuting to LA, I had the true taste of Mexico often. In the Mexico chapter of my HUB Series "A La Carte", I describe a special dish I had in Oaxaca, prepared by a Chef from France. In Mexico foods are sharper, bittier than LA, especialy if you add a steady flow of Herrudura Anejo backed by Negro Modella. That has the makings of a fiesta feast, heavily spiced, so you keep the Cerveza flowing. Ah! Now we now the reason for a Siesta. David Russell