Salt & Wind Travel

From Mexico Con Amor: 7 Surprising Ingredients From Mexico

In

When it comes to food, Mexico will always top our lists.

Be it fresh seafood in Baja or Oaxaca’s street food, you name it and we’re into it. Beyond eating we’re also into the history behind where our food comes from, which, in the case of Mexico, means taking it back to Central America’s ancient civilizations.

Ingredients From Mexico

From cacao and corn to the beloved avocado, many of the foods we associate with authentic Mexican food come from Mexico’s indigenous people. Meaning that quite a few of the foods we now consider commonplace were feeding and nourishing locals way before the Spanish arrived and shuttled them to other corners of the world.

Here, we’re going back to basics by breaking down a list of the most common foods that got their start in Mexico. From avocado to beans and cacao to papaya, here are just a few of the everyday ingredients from Mexico!

classic guacamole recipe v

Avocado

Arguably the most beloved ingredient from Mexico, Mexico’s indigenous civilizations ate and grew the creamy green fruit and considered it super important.

It was deemed so important that the word avocado comes from a Nahuatl (Aztec) word “ahuácatl” meaning testicle. It’s debated if the reference is due to the fruit’s shape or that it was considered an aphrodisiac. Bottom line is that the Aztecs believed avocados gave you strength and the fruit was also important to the Maya who depicted in their calendar.

Puebla, a small city southeast of Mexico City is believed to be the historic ground zero for Mexico. These days the state of Michoacan is one of the few places in the world where avocados can grow year-round thanks to its fertile volcanic soil, sunshine, and rain that make for perfect growing conditions.

Cook it in this: Classic Guacamole Recipe

quinoa tacos recipe v scaled

Beans

One of the most commonplace ingredients from Mexico are beans. The origins of beans are widely credited to central Mexico (specifically to the regions of modern-day states of Jalisco and Durango) and throughout South America. Oftentimes, beans were grown in tandem with maize (corn) and squash as a farming technique to efficiently maximize the soil and minimize soil erosion.

Beans are present throughout Mexican cuisine – they’re served as a side, in soups, used as fillings and toppings, for refried beans, and more. Pinto and black beans are the most common types we see used in mainstream Mexican food here in the United States, there are countless varieties (many of which you can try thanks to our friends at Rancho Gordo)!

Cook it in these: Black Bean Smothered Enchiladas

sweet potato tamale recipe v

Cacao

Before chocolate was known as a sweet indulgence, the ancient civilizations in present-day Mexico (from the Olmecs to the Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Aztecs) grew cacao. Back then cacao was used in a variety of ways from rituals (including marriage ceremonies and initiations), to currency, and a bitter drink made with spices like vanilla or chile.

It wasn’t until Spanish conquistadors arrived and returned to Spain with cacao that sugar and cinnamon were added to create something resembling the Mexican chocolate we know today. 

Cook it in this: Sweet Potato Tamale with Chocolate Sauce Recipe

cocoa chile spicy sweet snack mix recipe v

Chiles

Chiles – aka chili, chilli, and chile pepper – are also ingredients from Mexico, though more specifically the Mesoamerica region defined by Central Mexico to Central America and part of Costa Rica. The word chili is a Nahuatl (Aztec) word that belongs to the Aztec language.

In Mexican dishes, chiles can be toasted and soaked or ground to be used in everything from salsas, soups, pureed into adobos (a sauce made with tomato and spices), or moles.

Cook it in this: Cocoa Chile Sweet-Spicy Snack Mix Recipe

150210 mexican panzanella h

Corn

Corn is one of the oldest of all the ingredients from Mexico. Maize’s (aka corn) roots go back 10,000 years and are connected to a wild grass native to central Mexico. Corn is a sacred plant in the culture since everything from the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs all ate and had a very deep connection with corn.

There are believed to be more than 50 varieties of corn and it’s a cornerstone ingredient in Mexican cooking. In fact, you will see corn used to make everything from tortillas and tamales and tlacoyos to elote.

Cook it in this: Mexican Corn Elote Panzanella Salad Recipe or for Corn Tortillas

mango papaya frozen margarita recipe v

Papaya

Papaya – specifically the maradol variety – is believed to be one of the ingredients from Mexico, before traveling with Spanish and Portuguese explorers to locales including India and the Philippines.

Today, Mexico grows most of the world’s papayas, followed by Hawaii, Brazil, and Belize. In Mexico City, you’ll find papaya used as a key ingredient in fruit cups topped with chile and lime, in refreshers like paletas (popsicles) or Aguas Frescas (fruit water).

Cook it in this: Papaya Frozen Margarita or, travel with us to Mexico and make a beeline for a fruteria.

salt and wind chicken posole recipe v scaled

Tomato

The word tomato comes from the Nahuatl word tomatl and this staple ingredient in traditional Mexican cooking also has origins in Mesoamerica. In Nahuatl, tomatl has a few recorded meanings, including “swelling fruit” and “fat water.”

Spanish conquistadors who traveled to Mexico introduced tomatoes to Europe, which they believed were poisonous and instead grown for ornamental reasons before gaining edible popularity. Today, tomatoes are used around the world including back in their native Mexico. In fact, tomatoes are often used as the bases of salsas, which, btw refers to all sauces and not just the ones that come with tortilla chips.

Also, you’ll sometimes see the word jitomate in reference to red tomatoes, while the little green tomatoes (wrapped in husks) are called tomatillos.

Cook it in this: Shortcut Posole

What are your favorite ingredients from Mexico? Let us know in the comments below!

Get Ready To Travel To Mexico

Thinking of traveling to Mexico soon? Our travel planning services are here to help you have the ideal vacation. After discussing your preferences during a short consultation, we’ll plan your perfect itinerary. Whether you’re looking for custom travel planning or a small group trip, the Salt & Wind team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more!


Photo Credit: Joanne Pio

This post may contain affiliate links. Please refer to our privacy policy.

Pinterest
Twitter
LinkedIn
Facebook
Email
About The Author

TRAVEL SERVICES

We'll help you taste Italy Mexico California Hawaii Mexico France Spain the world

Food Focused Experiences

We specialize in food-focused experiences in the most interesting culinary regions of the world.

Curated Group Trips

We host trips to Italy and Mexico to the regions of Lombardy, Mexico City, and Oaxaca.

Personalized Itineraries

Our services are tailored to meet your needs and make sure you make the most of your trip.