Mexican Spices, Seasonings and Chiles
Mexican cuisine, like many others, is a fusion cuisine that takes elements from Mesoamerican cooking and adds a flare of European elements, especially Spanish. This is primarily a result of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico they found the Aztec diet consisted primarily of corn base dishes that often featured chiles, beans, tomatoes, and herbs. But the Aztecs also frequently used chocolate, vanilla, avocado, papaya, pineapple, achiote (also known as annatto), squash, sweet potato, turkey and fish. The Spanish introduced them to olive oil, almonds, beef, chicken and pork.
The spices and herbs that are native to Mexico include chocolate (cacao), chiles and vanilla. While they may have originated in Mexico, like many spices and herbs, their increased demand has led to their cultivation throughout the world.
In this country many of us think that the Tex-Mex style of cooking that we are familiar with - burritos, chalupas, enchiladas, fajitas and tacos is "Mexican" food. But the truth is these foods are prepared very differently in kitchens throughout Mexico. Mexican cooking is all about freshness. Their meat, normally chicken, pork, and beef is found locally as opposed to Tex-Mex meat which normally consists of ground beef. Another major difference between the two is the cheese. Traditional Mexican food uses white cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, queso asadero, queso Qaxaca, queso panela, or queso Chihuaha. The instantly recognizable yellow cheese used in Tex-Mex cooking is more of an American product. Lastly, sour cream is nonexistent in traditional Mexican cooking as dishes are topped with an assortment of fresh produce such as lime juice, raw or grilled onions, fresh cilantro or avocados.
Onions and GarlicLike many cuisines around the globe some of the most common flavors you may find in Mexican food are garlic and onions. These are both grown locally so they're as fresh as possible. Garlic is used either fresh or dried and is found in many staple recipes such as Carne Asada, Cheese Enchiladas, Pico De Gallo and seasoning blends like our Manzanillo Seasoning. Onion is also a very common ingredient, and like garlic is used both fresh and dried. When a recipe calls for fresh onions you can use white, yellow or red onions.
Other Common SeasoningsOther common flavors are cumin, coriander, chile powder and oregano. There are several varieties of oregano but for the most authentic taste in Mexican dishes Mexican oregano is preferred. This gives these dishes a rich earthy flavor.
While cumin is believed to have been first used in Egypt as far back as 4,000 years ago it is also often found in the spicier cuisines like Mexican. Cumin's very distinctive flavor possesses a warm, spicy-sweet and somewhat bitter taste and it is recommended that it is used sparingly as it can easily overwhelm a dish.
Mexican Chiles and Chile PowderMexican Chiles are a staple in this cuisine and are used in salsas, stews, vegetable dishes and sauces. A true Mexican dish always has some form of chile in it whether it's fresh, whole dried, flakes or ground. Ground chiles are used as a condiment just like Americans use ketchup. If a snack or meal does not use chiles then hot sauce is frequently added. The importance of the chile in Mexican culture dates back to the Mesoamerican period (generally considered between 1000 - 1697 AD) where it was considered to be as much of a staple as corn and beans. At that time, Bartolome de las Casas, the first appointed "Protector of the Indians", wrote that without chile peppers, the indigenous people did not think they were eating. This view is still shared today among native Mexicans.
Some of the more popular Mexican chiles are:
The Ancho chile which is the dried version of the Poblano chile and features a mild fruity flavor with undertones of plum, raisin, tobacco and a hint of earthiness. This is a medium heat chile coming it at 4,000 - 9,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
Chipotle chiles are well known for their spicy hotness, but when used in smaller amounts, they can also be a bit mild while adding a spectacular subtle flavor to dishes.
Other popular Mexican chiles are the Pasilla, Habanero, Guajillo, Serrano and De Arbol.
Unusual FlavorsSome spices and herbs that are often used in Mexican dishes but aren’t quite as common include Canela (which is also known as Ceylon or "True cinnamon"), cloves, vanilla and anise. Each adds their own subtle flavor twist to give you that genuine Mexican taste. Cacao powder is also used in dishes to provide a warm, rich flavor and is used to make Mole, a popular sauce served over chicken. Some other hard to find ingredients for authentic Mexican cuisine include smoky Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles and dried Avocado Leaves.
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