Ranking among the top ten cuisines in the world, Mexican cuisine is ample, with delicious dishes that have mesmerized the world. So, in this article, we will share the essential Mexican spices that spike up their dishes.

The most commonly used Mexican spices include the following:

  • Cinnamon (canela)
  • Anise (anís)
  • Cloves (clavos de olor)
  • Vanilla (vainilla)
  • Chile peppers (chiles)
  • Allspice (pimienta de Jamaica)
  • Cumin (comino)
  • Annatto (achiote)
  • Paprika (pimenton)
  • Coriander seeds (semillas de cilantro)
  • Garlic powder (polvo de ajo)

Indulge in the goodness of Mexican spices; use this complete guide to help you with your dreamy Mexican dish that is full of flavor!

The Ultimate Guide To Mexican Spices- Refining The Art Of Mexican Cooking

Tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, pozole–the diversity of Mexican cuisine is simply unexplainably amazing! Traditional Mexican dishes habitually come with tons of flavors and aromas, while spices have a significant role to play in them.

They are the essence of Mexican foods incorporating various dishes and culinary approaches. Although endless variations and ingredients are used in Mexican cooking, almost any of the same spices are used constantly.

Owing to these spices and the medley of fragrances, colors, textures, and flavors, the history of Mexican cuisine has accomplished international recognition. Accordingly, UNESCO declared Mexican cooking an Intangible Heritage of Humanity in November 2010.

Mexican Spices - SpiceRally

If you were ever wondering why you cannot get the same flavor in your homemade Mexican food as what you enjoyed in a Mexican restaurant, then there must be some issue with the spices you use.

Therefore, using these spices as a foundation, you’ll be able to experiment and start making your own homemade Mexican spice mix to season the most classic tasting fajitas and traditional varieties of tacos, along with every type of beans, soup, chili, salsas, and many more!

01- Cinnamon (Canela)

The cinnamon mainly used in Mexican cuisine is called Ceylon cinnamon, or Canela in Spanish. And it is also known as true cinnamon, which is quite different from Cassia cinnamon used in the US.

Ceylon cinnamon has a woodsy, pleasantly sweet, warm taste with an almost floral aroma. It adds depth to many Mexican traditional recipes, such as:

  • Mexican Buñuelos
  • Pan de Canela (Cinnamon tea cakes)
  • Horchata (Cinnamon Rice Milk)
  • Mexican Atole (Warm Cornmeal Drink)
  • Mexican Churros

While cinnamon gives so much flavor and upgrades the quality of Mexican food, it also helps with the following health benefits:

  • Lowers diabetes
  • Reduces heart diseases
  • Fights against cancer cells
  • Rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties

Click here to discover and learn about Mexican herbs that give Mexican essence to their dishes.

02- Anise (anís)

Anise seed is also known as aniseed. This spice is the seed of the anise plant, which is native to Southwest Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean region. It has a licorice-like, fruity flavor with a tinge of a bitter taste. Anise seeds are incorporated into authentic Mexican foods such as:

  • Pan de anís
  • Buñuelos (Mexican Sugar Crisps with Anise Seed)
  • Mole Poblano
  • Molletes – Mexican Anise Seed Rolls
  • Pan de Polvo (Mexican shortbread cookies)
  • Biscochitos (Traditional New Mexican Cookies)
  • Rosquitas (Sweet Anise Ropes)
  • Polvorones de Nuez (Mexican Pecan Cookies)

With the distinctive flavor profile anise seeds add to the food, it also gives the following health benefits:

  • Reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia
  • Reduce the symptoms of clinical depression
  • Could protect against stomach ulcers
  • Prevents growth of bacteria and fungi
  • Alleviates menopause symptoms

03- Cloves (Clavos de olor)

Commonly known as “clavos de olor” in Spanish, the distinctive peppery-sweet flavor of cloves adds richness across the Mexican food range. At the same time, its mildly astringent property adds an enjoyable mouthfeel.

But you should be careful since cloves are robust and can easily take over a dish if not properly balanced. This spice gives depth to traditional Mexican foods like:

  • Mole Poblano
  • Mexican Birria
  • Mexican Pozole
  • Capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding)
  • Mexican Ponche
  • Café de Olla Recipe
  • Carnitas (Mexican Pork Confit)
  • Mexican Tinga de Pollo (Authentic Mexican Chicken)
  • Pozole Rojo (Mexican Pork and Hominy Stew)

Cloves can give the following health benefits as well:

  • High in antioxidants
  • It may help protect against cancer
  • Can kill bacteria
  • May improve liver health
  • It may help regulate blood sugar

04- Vanilla (Vainilla)

Vanilla is the pod of a flowering vine in the orchid family native to Mexico and South America. Its flavor is sweet and smoky. It is usually paired with cloves and cinnamon.

In Mexico, it is used broadly in desserts like cake, flan, and ice cream and also to make hot chocolate or flavor coffee. Occasionally, you can find it in savory dishes, especially in the Veracruz region. The traditional Mexican dishes with vanilla include the following:

  • Mexican Atole
  • Jericalla
  • Churros
  • Dulce de Leche
  • Sopapillas
  • Pineapple Empanadas
  • Mexican Sweet Bread (Conchas)
  • Mexican Sweet Corn Cake (Pastel De Elote)

Incredibly aromatic and flavorful gives the following health benefits as an added advantage:

  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Provides anti-inflammatory properties
  • May benefits in brain health
  • Reduce added sugar intake

Mexican rice is not so spicy. Yet it is one of the delicious staples in Mexican cuisine. Click on this link and follow up on this recipe to learn how to make an authentic version of Mexican rice.

05- Chile Peppers (Chiles)

Authentic Mexican food often comprises a large variety of fresh, dried, and powdered chile peppers. These chile peppers are of different heat levels.

But all of them add depth, giving a serious punch of flavor and vibrancy to whatever they are called for. Here are the mostly used types of chile peppers in this cuisine:

  • Guajillo chiles
  • Ancho
  • Serrano
  • Poblano
  • Mulato
  • Pasilla Negro
  • Cascabel
  • Pasilla de Oaxaca
  • Puya (Pulla)
  • Chipotle Meco
  • Chipotle Morita
  • Costeno Rojo
  • Chile de Arbol
  • Japones
  • Pequin
  • Chiltepin
  • Habanero

These chile peppers are used to make authentic Mexican dishes such as:

  • Enchilada sauces
  • Salsas
  • Chilaquiles
  • Moles
  • Tamal fillings
  • Tacos
  • Fajitas
  • Tinga
  • Chiles Rellenos (Stuffed Peppers)

By adding chile peppers to your diet, you can achieve the following health benefits:

  • Improves digestive health and metabolism
  • Alleviates migraines
  • It may reduce the risks of cancer
  • Fights fungal infections, colds, and flu
  • Provides joint pain relief
  • Fights inflammation

06- Allspice (Pimienta de Jamaica)

Allspice is the dried unripe fruit of the pimenta dioica tree, native to Southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It has an exciting flavor combination of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.

Accordingly, the name allspice, can be paired with those same spices.  This spice is used mainly in Central and Southern Mexico. Following are the traditional Mexican recipes that contain allspice:

  • Mole sauce
  • Mexican rice
  • Picadillo
  • Birria tacos
  • Charred orange colada

This spice can give some fantastic health benefits such as:

  • Aids digestion
  • Contains anti-inflammatory properties
  • Boosts immunity
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Aids in dental care

07- Cumin (Comino)

This seed has a robust flavor, described as earthy, pungent, warm, and hearty, with a bit of citrus. Cumin has the weight to stand up to other intense flavors but can also provoke surprisingly mild nuance from sweeter vegetables or bread. This spice is used in authentic Mexican dishes, namely:

  • Chili con carne
  • Burritos
  • Tacos
  • Fajitas
  • Chimichangas
  • Guacamole
  • Birria
  • Mexican salads
  • Mexican rice

Incorporate cumin to reap the following health benefits:

  • Has anticancer properties
  • It may help treat diarrhea
  • It helps control blood sugar
  • Fights bacteria and parasites
  • It has an anti-inflammatory effect
  • It may help lower cholesterol

08- Annatto (Achiote)

Achiote, known as annatto, gives a deep red color and a subtle earthy flavor to all sorts of Mexican dishes. You can find it in seed form, in a refined paste, or in blocks seasoned with other spices and vinegar, called recados. Some popular traditional Mexican dishes with annatto include the following:

  • Cochinita pibil
  • Tacos al pastor
  • Pollo asado
  • Chorizo
  • Pescado en Achiote

Annatto seeds are high in vitamin E and give the following health benefits when consumed regularly:

  • Protects skin cells
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps to manage diabetes
  • Strengthens bones
  • Reduces signs of aging

09- Paprika (Pimenton)

Paprika, especially smoked paprika is one of the most essential Mexican spices that gives a subtle flavor with a vibrant color to whatever it is added to. It helps to upgrade many Mexican dishes with a hint of smokiness and mild spiciness. Some of the traditional Mexican dishes that include paprika are as follows:

  • Tacos
  • Fajitas
  • Burritos
  • Mexican rice
  • Paella
  • Mexican-style chicken

Paprika also comes with a bunch of health benefits, such as:

  • Reducing the risk of cancer and heart diseases
  • Boosting immunity
  • Promoting healthy vision
  • Improving bad cholesterol levels
  • Treats autoimmune conditions

10- Coriander Seeds (Semillas de Cilantro)

This spice is the gently citrusy, nutty seed of the cilantro plant. Coriander is much less bold than cilantro since the citronellol compound that gives cilantro its assertive green flavor lacks in coriander seeds. It adds a warm, sweet, nutty flavor with an edge of citrus to many traditional Mexican dishes such as:

  • Salsa
  • Mole sauce
  • Escabeche
  • Tacos
  • Fajitas
  • Cochinita Pibil

Coriander seeds can give the following health benefits when consumed regularly:

  • Help to lower blood sugar
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Beneficial for heart health
  • Protects brain health
  • Promotes digestion and gut health

11- Garlic powder (Polvo de ajo)

The assertive, pungent, and sharp flavor of garlic powder is one of the most-wanted flavors in Mexican cuisine. This ingredient is often used hand-in-hand with onion powder.

However, Mexican cooking contains fresh garlic as well, but garlic powder comes with more versatility to be included in a variety of dishes, including spice mixtures and seasoning blends. Some of the authentic Mexican recipes with garlic powder include:

  • Tacos
  • Enchiladas
  • Burritos
  • Fajitas
  • Mexican rice
  • Carne Asada dry rub

With its bold flavor and aroma, garlic also gives tons of health benefits such as:

  • Boosting immunity
  • Reducing high blood pressure and harmful cholesterol levels
  • Aids in weight loss
  • It contains antibacterial and antifungal properties
  • Help to prevent cancer

Popular Mexican Spice Mixtures And Seasoning Blends

Mexican chefs and homemakers are pretty enthusiastic about flavoring their dishes with spice mixtures and seasoning blends rather than using spices alone. These combinations are the key to the most flavorful authentic Mexican dishes.

And they are very versatile in terms of usage, flavor, texture, and aroma. So, here are some popularly known spice blends and seasoning mixtures that come from Mexican gastronomy:

  • Taco seasoning
  • Fajita seasoning
  • Burrito seasoning
  • Mexican spice mix
  • Tajin seasoning
  • Quesadilla seasoning
  • Chipotle seasoning
  • Guacamole seasoning
  • Sazon seasoning
  • Adobo seasoning

How Do Mexican Spices Pair With Other Ingredients?

The secret of the palatability of Mexican dishes that require spices depends on how they are mixed and matched with complementary ingredients.

The best type of ingredients to fit almost every spice are herbs. Like the list of symbolic spices we have listed above, a few herbs are iconic to Mexican cooking. You can learn about those herbs and how they are used in Mexican cuisine if you click this link and refer to this post.

In addition to the herbs, there are more ingredients you should be pairing with the spices to create magical recipes. On that note, you can refer to the table below.

SpiceIngredients that go well
Cinnamon (canela)Apples, pears, apricots, blueberries, almonds, chicken, squash, citrus fruits, milk, chocolate, coffee, sweeteners
Anise (anís)Coconut, citrus fruits, melon, raisins, almonds, powdered sugar, eggs, cooking wine, chicken, oils, flour, milk
Cloves (clavos de olor)Apples, beets, red cabbage, ham, pork, pumpkin, squashes, sweet potato, chicken, oranges, onions, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, sweeteners
Vanilla (vainilla)Mango, pineapple, coconut, chocolate, coffee, milk, cherries, berries, figs, syrups, pumpkin seeds, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, caramel, honey
Chile peppers (chiles)Any type of meat and seafood, eggs, poultry, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocado, cheeses, pasta, butter
Allspice (pimienta de Jamaica)Sweet potatoes, squash, apples, berries, apricot, milk, butter, shallots, flour, eggs, ham, plums, pork, beef
Cumin (comino)Apples, beans, beef, chickpeas, couscous,
eggplants, lentils, potatoes, rice, squash, tomatoes, onions, chicken, beef, seafood
Annatto (achiote)Grains, legumes, chicken, pork, turkey, savory sauces, rice, poultry, onion, corn, vinegar, citrus fruits, Worcestershire sauce, cheeses
Paprika (pimenton)Sausages, potatoes, cream sauces, eggs, chicken, pork, beef, pineapple, cantaloupe, avocados, bell peppers, onions, seafood
Coriander seeds (semillas de cilantro)Apples, beef, chicken, citrus fruit, eggs, ham,
lentils, onions, plums, pork, potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, coconut, avocado, cauliflower, seafood
Garlic powder (polvo de ajo)Beans, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, seafood, cheeses, bell pepper, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, oil, butter

What Are The Traditional Mexican Spices?

The characteristic flavor, distinctive aroma, and vibrancy of most Mexican dishes usually come from the traditional spices used in them. Out of the 11 spices we have discussed above, some elements help to bring out the exotic flavor, texture, and aroma combination of their authentic dishes. These spices are as follows:

  • Chile peppers
  • Annatto seeds and paste
  • Anise seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Garlic powder
  • Allspice
  • Vanilla
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cloves

Mexican Spices Literally Open A Gateway To A Heaven Of Vibrant And Flavorful Food!

Mexico ranks as the fourth most megadiverse country, which has a ton of spices that authentic cooks have utilized for centuries. A guiding code across regions and centuries has been to take uncomplicated, local ingredients and develop as much flavor as possible. Thus, spices like cumin, cinnamon, coriander seeds, chile peppers, garlic powder, etc., are commonly used in almost every traditional Mexican recipe that requires a zesty touch!

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