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Spices of Mexican Cuisine
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
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.