How to use spices from Mexico

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Authentic Mexican flavors are rich, balanced and infinitely cravable
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Here's how to use spices from Mexico for great south of the border flavor

Tasty tacos are always a treat, but Mexican flavors go far beyond salsas, tortillas and guacamoles. Learn how to use spices from Mexico and you’ll discover a combination of flavors with both depth and anti-inflammatory healing properties. Enjoying this cuisine is good for your taste buds and your health.

Contrary to what many people assume, authentic Mexican food spices don't have a lot of heat. Increasing the amount of chiles in a pan only makes it harder to appreciate other flavors. A simple way make more authentic dishes is to incorporate primary herbs and spices and taste for yourself how they enhance a meal.

Corn, beans and rice are core ingredients you’ll come across again and again. Their presence comes from the Spanish as well as Native American Aztec and the Mayans. To start, choose a main ingredient you’re familiar with and use some of the country’s most widely used seasonings to give it a whole new taste.


Commonly used in many Italian, Asian and American foods, garlic is one of the most often used spices in Mexican dishes as well. Powdered, fresh cloves or jarred will do. It’s frequently used alongside onion powder to flavor chicken, beef and seafood.

Cumin seeds

Another spice you may already have in the pantry, cumin seeds are often toasted in a drizzle of oil for a few minutes on a pan or ground with a mortar and pestle. Add them to meat, beans, hearty vegetables and even guacamole to lend a smoky, warm flavor with a pleasant bitterness.


Once hard to find, cilantro is now available in most food markets in the country. It’s not native to Latin America, but you’ll find it on nearly every bowl of beans, guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, salad, stew, taco and meat dishes. Its bright green, delicate leaves are an attractive garnish, and its bright flavor livens up everything on the plate. The seeds of this plant are dried and ground into coriander powder, which has a slightly bitter, earthier taste.

Chile powder

Knowing how to use spices from Mexico means understanding why they’re used. Here chile powder is not solely used to up the heat factor. In fact, most chile powders are blends including mild, smoky chiles, oregano and cumin. To add flavorful heat to a dish, used diced jalapenos rather than a spice blend.


This popular Latin blend includes onion, garlic, cumin, black pepper and oregano. Try it in bean dips, pork, beef or chicken dishes to add a distinct South of the Border kick. Check the salt content before adding salt separately or look for a salt-free blend.


Included in many blends, Mexican oregano is more robust, bitter and stronger tasting than the Mediterranean one you may be familiar with in Italian cuisine. It adds depth and contrast to many tomato-based stews and sauces, and stands up to cumin, chile peppers and other bold spices.

The sweeter side

Cinnamon, allspice and chocolate are a few ingredients used in both sweet and savory Mexican cooking. They’re often added to cookies and cakes, coups, sauces and stews to create a uniquely rich, earthy flavor.

When possible, grind the seeds of these spices instead of purchasing them pre-ground. You’ll experience fuller flavor and they’ll last much longer. Designate a coffee grinder exclusively for spices (unless you enjoy savory-flavored coffee) and experiment with creating your own spice blends.
Many of these can be found at regular grocery stores. If you live in an area with a Mexican population, go to a market that caters to this population and offers more variety at lower prices.

Cooking becomes a journey when you venture into unfamiliar territory. As you learn how to use spices from Mexico, try a variety of recipes from cookbooks and recipe sites and soon you’ll have a few new favorites added to the repertoire.

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