A Guide to the Common Ingredients in Traditional Mexican Cuisine

The Most Commonly Used Spices and Vegetables in Mexican Food

Pork taco
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Onions and Garlic

Let's start with the most common flavors you may find in Mexican food. First, there is garlic. It comes fresh, in a jar or in powdered form and is used in many recipes. Salsa, taco seasoning, and Spanish rice are just a few recipes that use garlic.

Next is onion which usually comes fresh or powdered. It is commonly used in conjunction with garlic.

Spices

Other common flavors are oregano and cumin.

 Mexican oregano gives dishes a rich earthy flavor. There are other types of oregano such as Mediterranean that are popular in Italian cuisine but Mexican oregano is a little different. Oregano pairs well with tomato-based dishes and lends an interesting flavor to other recipes.

Cumin has been around since the beginning of history. Its origin lies somewhere in the Mediterranean but has expanded in popularity because it is grown easily all over the world. It has a toasty yet somewhat bitter taste and gives Mexican dishes a certain flavor that can't be replaced.

Chile Powders

Chile powder is actually a blend of dried, powdered chiles, cumin and oregano. Other spices are sometimes included in the mix, but those are the key ingredients. It is used primarily for seasoning meats and vegetables but has other uses as well.

Ancho chile powder is another wonderful Mexican flavor. It is almost sweet and has rich dried fruit flavors.

Another chile powder commonly used and gaining popularity outside of Mexico is chipotle. Actually, it's just a jalapeno that has been dried and smoked. Chipotle has a distinctive flavor that goes well in many sauces and salsas. It also is the primary flavor in adobo, variously a rub and a marinade.

Unusual Flavors

Epazote is one of the lesser-known spices.

It is used to flavor beans and is supposed to calm any intestinal discomfort beans may cause. It also is known as "Mexican tea." It is very pungent and should be used sparingly as it is poisonous in large quantities.

Cinnamon, cloves, and anise are also used to add unique dimensions of flavor to Mexican dishes.

Cocoa is used in several dishes to add a very rich, warm flavor. Spices combined with small amounts of cocoa and peanut butter are used to make mole, a thick sauce often served over chicken. Raisins also can be used to flavor certain dishes.

Try using a combination of these different flavors to season your meats and vegetables for true Mexican flavors.