If you love authentic Mexican cuisine, but don’t love the restaurant costs, you can try your hand at cooking it yourself at home. First get your hands on several authentic recipes for your favorite Mexican dishes. Many of the main Mexican dishes, such as rice and beans, are plant-based dishes which rely on herbs and spices to kick things up a notch and add the rich flavor and spiciness Mexican cooking is known for. Before you get started cooking though, we’ve pulled together some of the best herbs for Mexican cooking you’ll want to have on hand.
Chile Powder is one of the best herbs for Mexican cooking and it’s used in a variety of dishes including chili, cornbread, Spanish rice, tomato sauce, guacamole, and as a seasoning for various chicken and beef recipes. The purest chile powder is made from ground chile peppers but most store-bought chili powder includes cumin, salt, and several other spices.
For authentic chile powder grind your own from dried chile peppers or try an authentic Mexican food store. Chile powder can have different flavors depending on the pepper used. Ancho chile powder is sweet and is more fruity, whereas chipotle has more heat because it is dried and smoked jalapeno.
Cumin is one of the herbs for Mexican cooking that provides some of the unique flavors in many recipes. Cumin comes from the Cuminum cyminum seed and is part of the parsley family. Although cumin is an Asian native plant and is most commonly known for its use in Indian recipes, it’s very often used along with chili powder in Mexican cooking. Use of cumin seed can have some side effects, including nausea, mental fogginess, and drowsiness and it has narcotic properties that can be addictive.
Ceylon or Mexican Cinnamon
Ceylon or Mexican Cinnamon is referred to as “true cinnamon” by experienced bakers. It comes from Sri Lanka and includes ground, roasted cacao nibs, cinnamon, and sugar. Mexican Cinnamon is more gritty or granular can include other things such as nutmeg, chilies, allspice, and nuts. Mexican chocolate has been used as far back as the Aztec period but it originally had a more sour taste. It’s used in both savory and sweet dishes.
Papalo is an herb used for Mexican cooking for dishes that need a little more kick than what cilantro or coriander can give. Used in a similar way to cilantro, Papalo has a skunk-like aroma and the citrus taste of cilantro, combined with mint and the peppery taste of arugula.
Epazote is an herb used by the Aztecs for cooking but also for healing because it has properties that help lessen flatulence. You’ll find Epazote added to recipes for dishes such as enchiladas, soups, black bean dishes, potatoes, tamales, and even eggs. Its anti-gas properties make it one of the best herbs for Mexican cooking which relies heavily on gas-inducing beans as a staple ingredient for many dishes.
Onion Powder is most commonly used with garlic powder for Mexican dishes. The flavors work well together. White onions are best for Mexican cooking in dishes such as pipians, guisados, and moles. Red onions, called cebolla morada in Spanish are also popular for salads, for grilling, and roasting. Green onions are used in some dishes.
Garlic Powder is used in a variety of Mexican dishes, including Spanish rice, taco seasoning, and salsa just to name a few.
Cilantro or Coriander
Cilantro or Coriander (Cilantro seeds) are used for cooking many different Mexican dishes including mole’, beans and rice dishes, salsas, even broth-based soups, and cheeses. It gives a spicy citrus taste boost to any dish and is the signature ingredient in Mexican chorizo.
Mexican Oregano, also called Lippia graveolens, is not your standard European Oregano. It works well with tomato dishes and lends an earthy rich flavor. There are more than fifty different types of oregano. In Mexican cooking, oregano works well in many dishes, whether chicken, beef, or fish. It’s also used to lend flavor to thick veggie soups and bean dishes.
Seepweed, more commonly known as Romerito is one of the best herbs for Mexican cooking when it comes to holiday dishes. It’s rarely eaten raw but instead is sauteed and used to add flavor to rice and beans or cake dishes.
Paprika is another of the best herbs for Mexican cooking that is made from dried peppers. Paprika made from ground sweet peppers will be sweeter and its color can be anywhere from deep dark red to bright orange-red, based on the type of pepper used.
Thyme is an herb used for Mexican cooking because its flavor goes well with the heat of most Mexican dishes. Use sparingly. If you are making a Mexican dish in advance and plan to freeze it, cut the recommended amount of thyme by ⅓ to ½ because freezing intensifies thyme’s flavor.
Mint is another of the best herbs for Mexican cooking. Whether it’s a Mexican meat dish, a salad, or Mexican dessert, mint can add that final touch of flavor. The type of mint leaves used vary depending on the flavor of the dish but can be orange mint, peppermint, ginger mint, or apple mint.
Though not one of the best “herbs” for Mexican cooking, we can’t talk about Mexican food without mentioning “rajas chilies”. Rajas refer to long, thin, strips of poblano chiles which are often used to garnish Mexican dishes and as filler for tacos, fajitas, or sandwiches, but they can also hold their own as a side to any Mexican cuisine. If you are choosing your own poblano chiles, look for the ones that are a deep green and have a shine or gloss to them to ensure you get the freshest chiles.
What’s your favorite Mexican recipe? Which of these best herbs for Mexican cooking have you used in your favorite south of the border dishes? If you’ve tried your hand at cooking your own Mexican cuisine or this article has inspired you to try your hand at Mexican cooking in the future, let us know your favorite herb below.