When you are creating delicious Mexican food, much of the flavor that you’re going to infuse will come from seasoning and spices.
There is a misconception that all spices in Mexican food mean spicy food. Which isn’t true.
They bring a depth of flavor and richness that elevate your dishes to a new level.
Mexican food is known for its layers of flavors, warmth, freshness, and depth.
That’s why when you head out for an authentic Mexican meal to somewhere like Barrio Queen Mexican Food, you know you’re in for a taste sensation.
Read my review of Huey Luey’s Mexican Restaurant here
The right spices can bring a simple vegetable side dish or a meat-heavy main meal to something that you will want to cook time and again.
So how do you infuse that depth of flavor in your own cooking?
Here are some Mexican spices that can bring those rich depths to your recipes.
Fresh garlic has an amazing taste and is fragrant.
And while taking the time to peel some garlic can give you a zingy dish, garlic powder can infuse the flavor as well.
It’s a cupboard staple. Read more about garlic HERE!
Ideal for throwing into chilies and other sauces.
Onions, much like garlic, are one of the foundations of tasty food.
Sometimes though, the onion itself can be too strong.
The preference is to have a slight onion kick without committing to the actual onion being in the dish.
Onion powder will last for ages in the cupboard, making it a cost-effective spice to have in your cupboard.
Cloves are very versatile and considered one of the world’s most important spices.
They are the dried, unopened flower bud of the tropical evergreen clove tree (pictured).
Reddish-brown and nail-shaped, their name comes from clavus, the Latin word for nail.
Cloves are sold whole or ground and can be used to flavor a multitude of dishes ranging from sweet to savory.
Cilantro / Coriander
The fresh and herby taste in most Mexican dishes comes from a healthy helping of cilantro.
The leaves can bring a crisp bite and a pop of freshness.
Cilantro in salsa and guacamole is where many people get a taste for the delicious herb.
The dried variation has a different flavor, as does coriander seeds.
When cooking, you can warm these dry spices in a pan to release all of the flavors.
Cumin dates back to the Old Testament.
A similar shape to a caraway seed, it comes in three colors:
- amber – the most widely available
- white – used interchangeably with amber
- black – more complex, peppery flavor
Known for it’s healing properties, cumin prompts digestion and is packed with antioxidants.
It can have an anti-inflammatory impact too.
And if you need to increase your iron intake, then a single tablespoon of cumin contains 20% of the RDA.
Sold in seed and ground forms, it can add a boost of flavor to savory pies, vegetables, curries, and even cheese.
Many people know and love the richness that Mediterranean oregano brings to an Italian dish.
However, Mexican oregano has its own distinct flavor.
It brings a stronger resinous and earthy taste, with the citrus undertones found in Mediterranean oregano.
You will likely find this in dried form, but the flavor is worth the search.
Cinnamon is the key to delicious apple dishes and cookies, but cinnamon can also be used in savory food.
It comes from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree.
The bark is harvested and dried.
It curls into long quills, which are cut into lengths and sold as cinnamon sticks, or ground into powder.
Cassia Cinnamon is a dark, reddish-brown color and has a more pungent, slightly bittersweet flavor.
Great in meat sauces and hot chocolate alike.
A must for your spice cupboard.
Until now, all of the spices have added flavor and richness, the chili brings the heat.
If you don’t like spicy food, you can still add a little bit of chili powder for a mild kick.
The smokey flavor is hard to replicate.
Chili powder comes in a few different flavor profiles, so you might need to try a few to find what you like best.
Depending on which peppers used to make the paprika powder, impacts the color and flavor.
Ground from aromatic sweet red pepper pods results in a powder form.
The pods are very tough, so several grindings are necessary to produce the proper texture.
Smoked paprika adds a smoky flavor to any dish, without actually smoking the food yourself, or using liquid smoke.
Pimenton is a special Spanish paprika made from peppers, slowly smoked and dried over oak fires.
There are three versions of Pimenton; sweet and mild, bittersweet medium-hot, and hot. You will probably have to shop a Latin market for any of these.
Brick red and triangular, annatto seeds are a common spice in Mexican cooking, especially in the Yucatan, where they are toasted and ground in a paste.
The seeds impart an earthy flavor and an orange-yellow hue.
As with most spices, it should be stored in a cool, dark place in an air-tight container.
Spices in Mexican food
Most of these spices are parts or extracts of dried seeds, roots, or bark – in contrast to herbs, which are the flowers, leaves, or stems from plants.
Spices have been used for centuries for flavoring, cooking, and preserving food, and are the key to producing the unique taste of many Mexican dishes.
So next time you’re cooking up a storm, add some of these delicious spices, and elevate your cooking to a whole other level.
Many of the aforementioned spices are included in my Beef Taco Casserole for Two Recipe.
Beef Taco Casserole
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
- 1 cup traditional refried beans
- 10 oz. can Rotel – reserve ¼ cup juice
- 1 ½ Tablespoons cilantro
- ¼ teaspoon hot sauce
- 4 ounces Colby Jack cheese shredded
- ½ onion chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves fresh garlic minced
- 8 oz. Of 90% lean ground beef
- ½ teaspoon cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- Tortilla chips
- Adjust oven rack to middle position in your oven and heat to 475º.
- In a small bowl, mix the refried beans, one-half of the drained Ro-tel, 1 1/2 Tablespoons cilantro, and hot sauce together.
- Pour mixture into an 8 1/2" by 5 1/2" baking dish, smoothing out to cover the bottom of the dish.
- Sprinkle 3/4 cup cheese over the bean mixture.
- Heat oil in 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and saute until onion is softened and just about to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, and coriander and cook till fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the beef and cook, breaking up the meat to expose all the surface. Cook till no longer pink., 4-5 minutes.
- Stir in remaining Ro-tel, reserved tomato juice, vinegar, and brown sugar.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until mixture has thickened and nearly dry.
My mixture never evaporated away the liquid, so I just drained it before proceeding.
- Spread the beef mixture in a baking dish.
- Layer the remaining refried beans on top of the beef.
- Sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cheese, or however much you desire.
You can scatter tortilla chips over the top, but we prefer to each our like a dip, so I did not add the chips.
- Bake approximately 8 - 10 minutes, until filling is bubbling and the top is spotty brown.
- Make sure to let casserole sit and cool for 10 minutes, which will allow it to thicken.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro.