Yucatan Spices

Yucatan Spices

Yucatan cuisine is famous for its bold flavors and unique combination of spices. Here are some of the most commonly used spices in the region:

Achiote (Recado Rojo): Essential ingredient in various Yucatecan dishes, like cochinita pibil, recado rojo is a Mayan spice paste made primarily from achiote seeds, providing a deep brick red color. It’s a popular ingredient used to flavor pork, chicken, and fish dishes. Use recado rojo as a flavoring rub.

Bistec Mayan spice: A rich blend of spices generally used to marinate and season steaks and other meats.

Marigold: Two marigold species, Tagetes minuta and Tagetes elliptica, are used in Yucatecan cuisine for their aromatic and culinary properties.

Culantro, cilantro, samat, Eryngium foetidum: A popular herb with a pungent, slightly bitter flavor, often used as a substitute for cilantro.

Coriander, Porophyllum ruderale: A flavorful herb used in salsas, sauces, and soups.

That being said, here’s a comprehensive table listing the mentioned spices, their botanical names, and their roles in Yucatecan cuisine:

Mayan SpicesBotanical NameRole in Yucatecan Cuisine
Achiote (Recado Rojo)Bixa orellanaSpice paste for various dishes
Bistec Mayan spiceN/AMarinating meats
MarigoldTagetes minuta, Tagetes ellipticaAromatic and culinary properties
CulantroEryngium foetidumSubstitute for cilantro
CorianderPorophyllum ruderaleSalsas, sauces, soups

Other Yucatecan spices worth mentioning include Allspice (Pimenta Gorda), Cacao, Naranja Agria (Sour Orange, Seville Orange), Chaya (Tree Spinach), and a variety of chili peppers such as Habanero, X’catic, and chile jalapeño rojo and verde. These spices, together with ingredients like Recado Negro, an extremely bold yet not necessarily hot flavor made from charred tortillas, only solidify Yucatan’s reputation as a region rich in flavorful and unique spices.

I indicate in this article how to combine the Yucatan food with these spices, and which Mayan drinks could also marry with these spices and local foods.

Achiote (Recado Rojo) from Yucatan

Achiote, also known as Recado Rojo, is a popular spice paste in the Yucatán region of Mexico. It is made from a combination of achiote seeds, charred garlic, and various toasted herbs and spices such as oregano, cloves, cumin, black peppercorns, allspice, coriander seeds, salt, and bitter orange or its substitutes like a mix of citrus juices and vinegar source. Recado Rojo is versatile and can be used as a flavorful rub for a variety of meats including pork, chicken, and fish.

In Yucatecan cuisine, Recado Rojo is an essential ingredient in the region’s famous slow-roasted pork dish, cochinita pibil source. The deep brick red color of the paste comes from the use of annatto seeds, which add a unique depth to the dish. When combined with citrus juice or vinegar, the paste can be used as a wet rub or marinade for meats, vegetables, and even eggs source.

Achiote seeds1/4 cup
Charred garlic4 cloves
Oregano1 tablespoon
Cloves1/4 teaspoon
Cumin1 teaspoon
Black peppercorns1 teaspoon
Allspice1/4 teaspoon
Coriander seeds1 teaspoon
Salt1 tablespoon
Bitter Orange1/4 cup (or substitute)

To make your own Achiote paste at home, simply grind the ingredients in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until they form a fine powder. Then mix the powder with the bitter orange juice or the substitute mixture of citrus juices and vinegar until you achieve a smooth paste.

With a confident and knowledgeable use of Achiote (Recado Rojo) in your culinary creations, you can bring the rich flavors of Yucatán Peninsula right to your dinner table. Remember to always taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Enjoy exploring the world of Yucatecan spices!

Bistec Mayan Spice from Yucatan

The Bistec Mayan spice from Yucatan is a flavorful and aromatic blend of spices used in various traditional dishes. Made from a mix of allspice, garlic, and pepper, this spice blend is commonly used in the preparation of beef and fish recipes in the Yucatan region of Mexico 1.

When using the Bistec Mayan spice in your cooking, you can expect an enticing combination of flavors – allspice provides a warm, sweet taste with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, while garlic and pepper balance it with their distinct pungency and heat. This blend of spices creates a unique taste that is both complex and versatile.

Incorporating Bistec Mayan spice into your recipes is not only a fantastic way to enrich the flavors of your dishes but also an opportunity to explore the culinary traditions of the Yucatan region. Below, find a brief overview of Yucatan spices and their uses:

SpiceFlavor ProfileCommon Uses
BistecWarm, sweet, pungent, and spicyBeef and fish dishes
AchioteMild, earthy, and slightly bitterMarinades and meat rubs
Recado RojoRich, robust, and spicyRub for meats, poultry, and fish
HabaneroExtremely spicy and slightly fruitySalsas and hot sauce

Some popular Yucatan dishes that you can try preparing with Bistec Mayan spice include Yucatecan-style fish steaks, seasoned beef fajitas, or even spiced roasted vegetables. For an authentic touch, combine the Bistec Mayan spice with other regional ingredients like sour orange juice or achiote paste 2. Your culinary skills will surely shine as you delve into Yucatan’s rich cuisine through the enticing flavors of the Bistec Mayan spice blend.


  1. Del Mayab
  2. Serious Eats

Marigold, Tagetes minuta and Tagetes elliptica from Yucatan

The Yucatan region is home to a variety of spices, among them are the marigold species: Tagetes minuta and Tagetes elliptica. These plants hold significant importance in Yucatan’s culinary landscape, providing unique flavorings and colors to diverse dishes.

Tagetes minuta, also known as Huacatay or Southern Cone Marigold, is a tall, upright marigold plant with small flowers, native to the southern half of South America. Over time, it has spread to other parts of the world, including the Yucatan, where it contributes a distinct aroma to local cuisine.

Complementing the Tagetes minuta, the Tagetes elliptica also adds its unique touch to the Yucatan’s culinary portfolio. While less information is available on this specific species, it is known to be used similarly to other marigold species in food preparation, contributing to the rich diversity of flavors found in the region.

These marigold species provide a range of flavors and benefits, including:

  • Flavoring cacao-based dishes
  • Offering medicinal properties
  • Serving as a natural food dye

Here is a table summarizing their key characteristics:

Marigold SpeciesNative RegionCulinary UseAdditional Benefits
Tagetes minutaSouth AmericaFlavoringMedicinal properties, Natural food dye
Tagetes ellipticaSouth AmericaFlavoringMedicinal properties, Natural food dye

Incorporating these marigold species into your Yucatan-inspired dishes can elevate the taste and add a touch of authenticity. Whether you are cooking traditional cuisine or exploring new flavor combinations, the Tagetes minuta and Tagetes elliptica can provide a memorable sensory experience.

Culantro, cilantro, samat, Eryngium foetidum

Culantro and cilantro might be commonly confused due to their similar aroma and flavor, but they are not the same plant. Culantro, also known as Eryngium foetidum, has a stronger flavor than cilantro and is used in smaller amounts in various dishes. The plant has long, serrated leaves, resembling long-leafed lettuce, and is a tropical perennial herb belonging to the Apiaceae family1.

FlavorStronger than cilantroMilder than culantro
LeavesLong, serratedDelicate, feathery
UsageIn smaller amountsIn larger amounts
GrowthTropical perennial herbAnnual herb
Other NamesRecao, shadow benny, ngò gaiCoriander, Chinese parsley, cilantrillo

Culantro is popular in Latin American and Asian cuisines, where it is used in soups, stews, curries, and sauces2. Unlike cilantro, culantro can be added to dishes during the cooking process without losing its flavor profile. When substituting, you should be careful with the amounts used, as culantro has a more potent flavor3.

Growing your own culantro is possible and can be a versatile addition to your garden. This plant thrives in warmer temperatures and can be grown indoors or outdoors4. Keep in mind that culantro grows better in the shade, as too much sunlight can cause the leaves to lose their intense flavor5.

In summary, while culantro and cilantro share similarities in aroma and flavor, they are distinct plants with unique characteristics. Understanding these differences will help you choose the best option for your culinary creations.


  1. Eryngium foetidum – Wikipedia
  2. Culantro vs. Cilantro: Know the Difference – Cultured Table
  3. What Is Culantro, and How Do You Use It? – The Spruce Eats
  4. How to Grow Culantro Herb (Eryngium foetidum) – Gardening Channel
  5. What Is Culantro And How Is It Different From Cilantro?

Coriander, Porophyllum ruderale from Yucatan

Porophyllum ruderale, also known as Papalo, Bolivian coriander, and quillquiña, is a culinary herb native to Mexico, Central, and South America. The Yucatan Peninsula features a diverse variety of spices, with coriander being one of the most popular herbs in the region.

The flavor of Porophyllum ruderale can be described as a combination of anise, arugula, and cilantro. This distinctive taste is what sets it apart from other coriander varieties, such as the commonly used Mexican or Bolivian coriander. Due to its robust flavor, this herb is often used in Yucatan cuisine to enhance the taste of various dishes, including soups, stews, and meat marinades.

Growing Porophyllum ruderale is relatively easy, as it is a hardy plant that prefers well-drained soil. It can be sown like basil, making it an accessible option for home gardeners looking to add an authentic Yucatan spice to their cooking repertoire.

Here is a table summarizing Porophyllum ruderale’s key characteristics:

Native RegionMexico, Central, and South America
Flavor ProfileA mix of anise, arugula, and cilantro
UsesEnhancing soups, stews, and meat marinades in Yucatan cuisine
GrowingHardy plant, prefers well-drained soil

In conclusion, the inclusion of Porophyllum ruderale in your culinary arsenal will not only diversify your flavor palate but will also provide a unique taste of Yucatan cuisine. With its distinctive flavor profile and relatively easy-growing process, this herb is worth exploring for both experienced cooks and home gardeners.

Chile Jalapeño Rojo Spices

Chile jalapeño rojo, commonly known as red jalapeño peppers, are a popular spice used in various Yucatan dishes. These peppers, when ripe, turn from green to a vibrant red color, providing a unique flavor and a moderate to hot level of spiciness. You can use them in various forms, such as fresh, dried, or ground, to enhance the taste and aroma of your meals.

One of the main dishes where you can find red jalapeño peppers as a key ingredient is Recado Rojo. The Recado Rojo recipe is a Yucatecan achiote-based spice paste, traditionally used to marinate meats, poultry, fish, and seafood. This paste uses a blend of spices such as annatto seeds, cloves, oregano, cumin, peppercorns, and of course, red jalapeño peppers.

Here’s a table summarizing the important qualities of red jalapeño peppers:

Heat LevelModerate to hot
TasteFruity, slightly sweet, tangy
ColorVibrant red
FormFresh, dried, ground
DishesRecado Rojo, sauces, salsas

Remember to be careful when handling these peppers, as their spiciness can irritate your skin and eyes. To reduce the heat level, you can remove the seeds and membranes before adding them to your dish.

Incorporating red jalapeño peppers into your culinary creations can add depth to the flavors and a kick of spiciness that is characteristic of Yucatan cuisine. Enjoy experimenting with these versatile and flavorful chillies in your recipes!

Vanilla from Yucatan

Yucatan’s Grade A Mexican vanilla beans are known for their superior quality and rich flavor. Grown in the Yucatan Peninsula, these beans are dark brown, 6 to 7 inches long, and have a distinct aroma that sets them apart from other vanilla variants.

To appreciate the unique characteristics of Yucatan vanilla, you should understand the process of cultivating and harvesting the beans. Vanilla orchids, which produce the beans, require a specific climate, with temperatures between 20 to 30°C and high humidity. After pollination, which is often done by hand, vanilla beans develop over the course of several months. When they finally ripen, the beans are harvested and undergo a curing process to develop their rich flavors and aromatic properties.

Yucatan vanilla is versatile and can be used in various recipes, ranging from desserts to savory dishes. Here are some common uses for this flavor-rich ingredient:

  • Homemade vanilla extract: By combining Yucatan vanilla beans with alcohol, you can create your own vanilla extract and elevate the flavors in your recipes.
  • Baking: Incorporate Yucatan vanilla in cakes, cookies, and pastries for a rich and aromatic touch.
  • Beverages: Enhance the flavor of smoothies, lattes, and cocktails with a dash of Yucatan vanilla extract.

Incorporating Yucatan vanilla into your dishes allows you to experience the rich flavors and aroma that this particular variant offers. The table below summarizes the key points mentioned in this section:

SourceYucatan Peninsula
GradeGrade A
Length6 to 7 inches
ColorDark brown
AromaDistinct and rich
UsesHomemade vanilla extract, baking, beverages

By using Yucatan vanilla in your recipes, you’ll be able to experience the distinct and rich flavors that this Mexican specialty provides. So, next time you’re looking to enhance your culinary creations, consider incorporating Yucatan vanilla to experience the unique aroma and taste it has to offer.

Bay Leaves – Litsea glaucescens

In Mexican cuisine, the use of bay leaves, specifically Mexican Bay Leaves, or Litsea glaucescens, is popular. These leaves provide a subtle and unique flavor to various dishes. Unlike the typical American bay leaf, Laurus nobilis, which has a more robust and harsh taste, the Mexican variety offers a milder flavor.

Mexican Bay Leaves come from a small, evergreen tree that grows up to 15-20 feet in height. The tree produces leathery, elongated leaves that are about 3 inches long and have a distinct blue-green coloration on their undersides. Its flowers are small and white-green, while the fruits are small (about half an inch across) and ripen to a deep purple-black color, as seen on Trade Winds Fruit.

Although many people commonly associate bay leaves with European cuisine, the Mexican Bay Leaf is a versatile ingredient that significantly enhances traditional Yucatan recipes. Due to the leaf morphology, aroma, and flavor, some substitute species, such as Cinnamomum tamala, Pimenta racemosa, Syzygium polyanthum, and Umbellularia californica, are often sold as “bay leaves.” However, these substitutes differ from the true Mexican Bay Leaves in various aspects.

AspectMexican Bay Leaf – Litsea glaucescensCommon Substitute – Laurus nobilis
FlavorMildHarsh, robust
Leaf colorationBlue-green undersideLacks this feature
Tree size15-20 feetLarger than Mexican variety
OriginMexicoMediterranean region

Understanding the differences between the Mexican Bay Leaf and its common substitutes is essential when preparing authentic Yucatan dishes. By using Litsea glaucescens, you can ensure that you are using the right ingredient to achieve the desired flavors and aromas in your cooking.

Boldo, Peumus boldo

Boldo, scientifically known as Peumus boldo, is an evergreen shrub endemic to the central region of Chile. This unique plant is recognized for its menthol-like smell and use in traditional medicine as well as culinary applications. The leaves of boldo are used similarly to bay leaves, providing a distinctive flavor in various dishes.

Native to Peru and central Chile, boldo can grow up to six to eight meters high, producing small, bell-shaped flowers in white or yellow colors, with ovate, leathery leaves, and wart-like beads on the surface. The plant has been used in South American countries like Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Brazil for centuries.

Boldo is known for its various health benefits and is usually consumed as an infusion tea, using 2 grams of dried leaves in hot water before meals. Other methods of consumption include the use of capsules as a dietary supplement, and dry extracts. In topical applications, a compress can be prepared using 20 grams of dried leaves in hot water.

Here’s a table summarizing the key points about Boldo, Peumus boldo:

Scientific NamePeumus boldo
Endemic LocationCentral region of Chile, between 33° and 40° southern latitude
Plant TypeEvergreen shrub
Height6-8 meters
LeavesOvate, leathery, with wart-like beads
FlowersSmall, bell-shaped, white or yellow colors
UsesInfusion tea, capsules, dry extracts, compresses

Remember to use boldo responsibly and consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating it into your diet or treatment plan, especially if you have any health concerns or are taking medications. In this way, you can confidently and knowledgeably enjoy the benefits of this wonderful Yucatan spice.

Chia, Salvia hispanica

Chia seeds are derived from the herbaceous plant, Salvia hispanica, which is a part of the sage family, Lamiaceae. This plant is native to Mexico and was highly valued by the Aztecs for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. Today, chia seeds are popular for their rich nutritional profile and versatility in various recipes.

Key Nutrients and Benefits

AntioxidantsHelps fight free radicals and may reduce disease risk
Omega-3 Fatty AcidsPromotes heart health and decreases inflammation
FiberAids in digestion and weight management
ProteinEssential for building and maintaining muscle mass
Minerals (calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus)Supports bone health and overall body function

Consuming chia seeds is associated with several health benefits. Their high antioxidant content helps fight free radicals and may decrease the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Chia seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health and may reduce inflammation. Moreover, the high fiber content supports digestion and may contribute to weight management. Chia seeds are also an excellent source of protein, providing essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair. Lastly, they are rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, contributing to strong bones and overall body function.

Usage and Precautions

Chia seeds are versatile and can be easily incorporated into your daily diet. You can sprinkle them on salads, mix them into smoothies, or even create a chia pudding. Due to their ability to absorb liquids, they can be used as a thickening agent in recipes. However, make sure to consume chia seeds with plenty of water, as their high fiber content might lead to digestive discomfort if not properly hydrated.

Despite the many benefits of chia seeds, there are certain precautions to keep in mind. If you have a history of gastrointestinal issues or are taking blood-thinning medications, consult your healthcare provider before consuming large amounts of chia seeds.

Chipilin, Crotalaria longirostrata

Chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata) is a leguminous plant native to Central America and Southern Mexico, most notably in regions like El Salvador, Guatemala, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. It is a popular ingredient in various cuisines in these areas, where the leaves and flowers serve as vital components in traditional dishes. Chipilin is not only valued for its unique flavor, but it’s also known for its high nutritional content, including minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium source.

Typically not cultivated on an agricultural scale, you can find Chipilin at farmer’s markets, in home gardens, and even growing wild in its native regions. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, with the leaves developing their characteristic taste when cooked source.

Here is a summary table of the key characteristics of Chipilin:

Source regionsCentral America, Southern Mexico (El Salvador, Guatemala, Oaxaca, Chiapas)
Plant typeLegume
Edible partsLeaves, Flowers
TasteUnique flavor, better when leaves are cooked
Nutritional valueRich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and beta carotene source

Incorporating Chipilin into your dishes can add a touch of authentic Yucatan flavor. The plant’s distinct taste and high nutrient content make it a valuable addition to a variety of recipes. Since it might be challenging to find at local grocery stores, be sure to check farmers’ markets and specialty stores, or grow it in your own home garden to enjoy its benefits fully.

Chile jalapeño verde spices

Chile jalapeño verde is a popular spice in Yucatan cuisine, originating from the jalapeño pepper. These green peppers offer a mild to medium heat level that can add both flavor and heat to your dishes. With a Scoville rating of 2,500 to 8,000, they are versatile and widely used in Mexican cooking.

In Yucatan cuisine, chile jalapeño verde is often used in sauces, marinades, and stews. It can also be used to add spice to snacks, like fresh salsas or guacamole. But chile jalapeño verde doesn’t just add heat—it also imparts a bright, zesty flavor that can enhance the other ingredients in your dish.

When using chile jalapeño verde in your cooking, it’s essential to be aware of your desired spice level. You can control the heat by adjusting the quantity of chiles and removing the seeds to reduce the heat if desired. Here’s a simple guide to help you:

Amount of ChilesHeat Level
4 or moreHot

There are several health benefits to incorporating chile jalapeño verde spices into your meals. These peppers contain vitamin C, vitamin A, and capsaicin, all of which contribute to a healthy immune system and aid in digestion.

To effectively store chile jalapeño verde, keep the fresh peppers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. You can also explore different forms of this spice, such as dried, powdered, or pickled, to add variety to your recipes.

Remember, when incorporating chile jalapeño verde into your Yucatan dishes, experiment with different quantities and preparations to find the perfect balance between heat and flavor that suits your taste. Happy cooking!

Chile Waque Spices

Chile waque spices, originating from the Yucatan Peninsula, are known for their unique flavor and aromatic qualities. These spices hold a significant place in the pre-Columbian Mayan diet as essential flavorings and condiments for food across countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras1.

These chile waque spices come in various forms and incorporate a wide range of ingredients. One of the popular blends used in the Yucatan Peninsula is Recado Negro, which is a traditional seasoning paste2. The ingredients in Recado Negro can vary depending on the region, but they typically include:

  • Toasted chiles
  • Achiote paste
  • Black pepper
  • Oregano
  • Cumin
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Allspice
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar2

To help you better understand the components of Chile waque spices, the table below summarizes some key ingredients and their uses:

Toasted chilesAdd heat and smoky flavor
Achiote pasteImpart a mild, earthy taste and vibrant color
Black pepperEnhance the overall flavor profile
OreganoProvide a fragrant and slightly bitter taste
CuminOffer a warm, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor
CinnamonContribute to a sweet and warm taste
ClovesAdd a sweet and spicy aroma
AllspiceImpart a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove flavors
GarlicStrengthen the overall savoriness of the dish
VinegarBalance flavors with acidity2

When using chile waque spices in your culinary endeavors, it’s essential to consider the balance of flavors. Chiles add heat, while other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and allspice lend a sweet touch. Ingredients like oregano, cumin, and garlic help enhance the overall savoriness of the dish. In the end, vinegar is used to provide acidity, balancing out the bold flavors2.

By incorporating chile waque spices into your cooking, you can elevate your dishes’ taste and appearance, providing an unmistakable Yucatan style that is bound to leave an impression on your taste buds.


  1. https://www.maya-ethnobotany.org/mayan-ethno-botany-tropical-agriculture-spice-flavoring- colorant-food-dye-guatemala-mexico-belize/all-spice-achiote-annatto-bay-leaves-chili-cilantro-marigold-hoja-santa.php
  2. https://www.tasteatlas.com/recado-negro 2 3 4

Habanero Chili Peppers

In the Yucatan region, habanero chili peppers are a popular spice that adds a fiery punch to various dishes. Known for their fruity flavor and intense heat, these peppers have a Scoville rating ranging from 200,000 to 350,000 SHUs. Sometimes, they can even reach an impressive 800,000 SHUs under favorable conditions.

Habanero chilies come in various colors, including orange, red, yellow, and even chocolate brown. Their versatile flavor profiles make them a popular choice for adding spice to an array of dishes, including sauces, salsas, and marinades.

Here’s a summary of the key points about habanero chili peppers:

Scoville Rating200,000 – 350,000 SHUs
AppearanceVarious colors, including orange, red, yellow, and brown
FlavorFruity and fiery
UsesSauces, salsas, marinades, and other dishes

While habanero peppers might be quite a bit hotter than jalapeños, their popularity in the Yucatan region and many other parts of the world is undeniable. When using these chilies in your dishes, remember to add them with caution and adjust the level of heat to your preference.

When cooking with habanero peppers, you might find that using gloves can help protect your hands from the burning sensation sometimes caused by capsaicin. Additionally, remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the peppers to avoid any accidental contact with sensitive areas.

Incorporating habanero chili peppers into your culinary creations is a bold and daring choice. By following these tips, you’ll be able to harness their fiery heat and fruity flavor to create some unforgettable dishes.

Pimenta Gorda (allspice)

Pimenta Gorda, also known as allspice, is a unique spice that has a warm and aromatic flavor profile, evoking a combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. In Mexico, Pimenta Gorda is grown in the tropical climates of Veracruz, Tabasco, and in the Sierra area1. The name “allspice” originates from its aroma, which smells like several different spices combined2.

In Yucatan cuisine, you can expect to find allspice used in various dishes that require a rich and earthy flavor. It’s an essential spice in many signature recipes, such as traditional stews, sauces, marinades, and even desserts.

Here’s a summary of the properties and common uses of Pimenta Gorda (allspice):

PropertyDescriptionCommon Yucatan Dishes
FlavorWarm, aromatic, and reminiscent of multiple spicesStews, sauces, marinades, desserts
AppearanceBerry-sized fruit or ground powder
Growing RegionsVeracruz, Tabasco, Sierra area

When incorporating allspice into your Yucatan dishes, start with a small amount and adjust according to your taste preferences. Generally, a pinch or two is sufficient to impart the desired warmth and depth to your dish. If you’re using whole allspice berries, it’s best to grind them just before cooking to release their full potency and prevent them from losing their powerful aroma3.

Allspice is not only versatile but also easy to find. It is available in most grocery stores and markets in various forms (whole or ground). When selecting allspice, choose products that have a strong, pleasant smell and a vibrant color to ensure you get the best quality and flavor possible.


  1. https://patijinich.com/allspice_or_pimienta_gorda/
  2. https://heyexplorer.com/spices-from-mexico/
  3. https://www.maricruzavalos.com/mexican-spices/

Cacao (Theobroma cacao)

Theobroma cacao, also known as the cacao tree, is an evergreen plant native to the Yucatan area of Mexico. The seeds of this tree have been used for centuries by the Maya and Aztecs to produce a variety of products, including the popular chocolate we know today. Its name, Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods” in Latin, reflects its importance in the region’s ancient cultures.

In its natural habitat, Theobroma cacao can grow up to 15 meters in height and live for around 60 years. The tree produces small, white, pink, or violet flowers that grow directly from the trunk or primary branches. It is cauliflorous, meaning the flowers grow in clusters directly from the trunk and large branches. The fruit, or cacao pods, are oval-shaped and turn yellow to orange when ripe. These pods contain the seeds that are processed to create cocoa and chocolate products.

The seeds of the cacao tree have been used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Rich in antioxidants and minerals, such as magnesium and iron, they were highly valued for their health benefits. When consumed, cacao is said to have mood-enhancing properties due to the presence of compounds like theobromine and phenylethylamine (PEA). The seeds were also used in various rituals throughout Mesoamerican history, further emphasizing their significance in the region.

Plant originYucatan area of Mexico
Tree heightUp to 15 meters
LifespanAround 60 years
Flower colorsWhite, pink, or violet
Fruit colorYellow to orange when ripe
UsesMedicinal, culinary, and rituals
Health benefitsRich in antioxidants, magnesium, iron, and mood-enhancing compounds like theobromine and PEA

As you explore the world of Yucatan spices, remember the important role that cacao has played in the region’s history and culture. Its versatility and benefits make it a fascinating and integral part of Mesoamerican cuisine and tradition.

Naranja Agria (Sour Orange, Seville Orange)

Naranja Agria, also known as Sour Orange or Seville Orange, is a citrus fruit commonly found in the Yucatan Peninsula. This bitter fruit is used in many traditional Yucatecan dishes to add a unique tangy flavor and provide acidity that helps tenderize meats. When cooking, you’ll find Naranja Agria in various forms such as marinades, sauces, and dressings1.

The high acidity of Naranja Agria makes it a perfect ingredient in authentic Yucatecan dishes. One popular use is in Cuban Mojo Criollo, a marinade made from sour oranges, garlic, and spices, frequently used to tenderize and flavor chicken, beef, and pork. Another well-known dish is Poc Chuc, a grilled pork recipe flavored with sour oranges2.

In Yucatan cuisine, Naranja Agria is also used in the preparation of Cochinita Pibil, a slow-cooked pork dish marinated in a mix of sour oranges, Achiote paste, and other spices3. The fruit’s high citric acid content helps break down proteins in meat, making it more tender and enhancing its flavors.

If you have difficulty finding Naranja Agria in your local market, consider looking in Latin grocery stores or online. Seville oranges can be used as a substitute, or you can create your own blend of citrus juice by mixing regular orange juice with lime juice to replicate its sour taste.

Here is a summary table of the uses and substitutes for Naranja Agria in Yucatan cuisine:

DishUse of Naranja AgriaSubstitutes
Cuban Mojo CriolloMarinade for meats (chicken, beef, Pork)Seville orange, orange and lime juice mixture
Poc ChucFlavoring for grilled porkSeville orange, orange and lime juice mixture
Cochinita PibilPork marinating and tenderizingSeville orange, orange and lime juice mixture


  1. What Is Naranja Agria? – The American Cuban Table
  2. Everything You Need To Know About Yucatan Food – The Winged Fork
  3. 50+ Best Yucatan Foods & Mayan Dishes in Mexico [2023] – Travel To Merida

Chaya (Tree Spinach)

Chaya, also known as tree spinach or Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, is a fast-growing leafy perennial shrub native to the Yucatan Peninsula of southeastern Mexico. The plant has been used traditionally by the Maya people for both its culinary and medicinal properties.

The leaves of the chaya plant have a spinach-like flavor and can be cooked and consumed similarly to spinach. However, it is essential to cook chaya leaves for at least 5 minutes to remove toxic elements and avoid adverse effects. Incorporating chaya into your meals as a side dish or in soups, stews, and sauces enhances the nutritional value while adding a delicious flavor.

Apart from its culinary use, chaya offers numerous health benefits. It is exceptionally high in essential nutrients such as iron, protein, fiber, and calcium. Consuming chaya is also believed to improve digestion, lower cholesterol, prevent coughs, boost blood circulation, and alleviate arthritis symptoms.

Here’s a table summarizing chaya’s noteworthy properties:

TaxonomyCnidoscolus aconitifolius
OriginsYucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Culinary UseSimilar to spinach; cook at least 5 minutes
Nutritional ValueHigh in iron, protein, fiber, calcium
Health BenefitsImproves digestion, lowers cholesterol, prevents coughs, boosts circulation, alleviates arthritis symptoms

Remember to always cook chaya leaves before consuming them to ensure safe and healthy consumption. By incorporating chaya into your dishes, you can enjoy the rich flavors of the Yucatan while enhancing your health.

X’catic Chilis

X’catic chilis, also known as xcat’ic, are a versatile and flavorful pepper native to the Yucatán region of Mexico. These peppers are an integral part of Yucatecan cuisine and have a unique, slightly spicy taste that sets them apart from other Mexican peppers.

In Yucatecan dishes such as Puntas de Filete al X’catic, these chilis are used to add a distinct flavor to meat and vegetable dishes. They are also commonly combined with other spices and ingredients to make flavorful Yucatán salsas. The color of the X’catic chili ranges from yellow to greenish and has a long, slender shape, fitting its Mayan origin name meaning “long shaped”.

When it comes to spice levels, X’catic chilis are generally mild to moderately hot, making them a versatile option for most palates. It’s important to note that their heat can vary depending on the individual pepper, so always be cautious when using them in your recipes. For reference, here’s a brief comparison of X’catic chili with other popular Mexican peppers:

PepperHeat RangeScoville Heat Units
X’caticMild to HotUnknown
SerranoHot10,000 – 25,000
JalapeñoMild to Hot2,500 – 8,000

To use X’catic chilis in your cooking, always start with a small amount and adjust as needed, depending on the desired heat level. Incorporating this flavorful and unique chili in your dishes will provide an authentic Yucatán touch and elevate the overall taste. Remember to handle chilis carefully, wearing gloves to avoid skin irritation, and keep them away from your eyes.

In conclusion, experimenting with X’catic chilis can add a whole new dimension to your culinary adventures. So go ahead and give them a try in your next Yucatecan inspired dish.

Yucatan Recados

Yucatan Recados are essential spice pastes in Yucatecan cuisine. These pastes, originating from the Mayan culture, add unique flavors and aromas to various dishes. There are two primary types of Recados: Recado Rojo, a red spice paste made with achiote and used in the famous slow-roasted pork dish, cochinita pibil; and Recado Verde, a green spice paste made from pumpkin seeds, used in the popular Yucatecan dish, papadzules.

RecadoMain IngredientsPopular Dishes
Recado RojoAchiote, spicesCochinita Pibil
Recado VerdePumpkin seeds, spicesPapadzules

Recado Rojo is known for its deep brick-red color, which comes from the achiote seed. It is often used as a rub for meats, such as pork, chicken, and fish. You can find premade Recado Rojo at Latin markets or make your own using a combination of achiote, spices, and acidic liquids, like lemon or orange juice.

Recado Verde, on the other hand, is made using ground pumpkin seeds, known as pepitas. The seeds are harvested from a local variety of squash in the Yucatan region. This paste adds a rich, nutty flavor to dishes like papadzules, which are corn tortillas filled with hard-boiled eggs, topped with a tomato and chili pepper sauce, and drizzled with a pumpkin seed sauce.

Incorporating Yucatan Recados into your cooking repertoire will help you explore and appreciate the rich and diverse flavors of Yucatecan cuisine. Use these spice pastes to enhance traditional Yucatecan dishes or experiment with your own culinary creations to add a touch of exotic flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions About Yucatan Spices

Yucatan cuisine is well-known for its unique and flavorful spices. Here, we address some common questions about these spices to enhance your understanding and appreciation of this regional cuisine.

What are the most common spices used in Yucatan cuisine?

Two prominent spices in Yucatan dishes are anatto, also known as achiote, and habanero chile. Anatto comes from the seeds of the annatto tree, and is used to create a paste called recado rojo, which is essential for many Yucatan dishes. The habanero chile, on the other hand, is a fiery pepper that adds a distinctive heat and fragrance to the food. It is very different from the chilies found in Central Mexican cuisine.

How do Yucatan condiments differ from other Mexican styles?

Yucatan-style condiments often include a combination of tangy, sour, and spicy flavors. Three typical Yucatan condiments are:

  1. Xni Pec – A habanero-based salsa with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice.
  2. Recado Rojo – A spice paste made from achiote seeds, spices, and chilies, often used as a rub or marinade.
  3. Sikil Pak – A creamy pumpkin seed dip mixed with tomatoes and spices, sometimes including habanero for an added kick.

How do I use Yucatan spices in my everyday cooking?

Incorporate Yucatan spices into your meals by exploring traditional recipes like cochinita pibil, which uses achiote paste for flavor and color, or by experimenting with different hot sauces and salsas for added spice. Enhance the flavors of your dishes by using authentic Yucatan spice blends or condiments, like recado rojo. You could also use Yucatan spices to create your own unique fusion dishes, showcasing the bold and exciting flavors of the region.

Yucatan SpicesCommon Uses
Achiote (Recado Rojo)Marinades, Rubs, Cochinita Pibil
Habanero ChileSalsas, Hot Sauces, Spicing up Traditional Dishes

I have updated my list with the safest cities in Mexico, and the safest cities in Baja California where I spent a couple of years. I can tell you now where is the cheapest and safest place to live in Mexico. Nevertheless, there are places to avoid near the border, with some of the safest Mexican border towns which are Las Piedras and La Misión.

I had to decide which are the safest resorts in Mexico, normally boutique hotels and all inclusive hotels with security access, and beach guards in an already safe city. Those selected and relatively secluded resorts are also the safest place in Mexico to vacation with the family.

Those lists have to be compared with the list of cleanest cities in Mexico.

My Favorite Things To Do In Mérida

So I have a shortlist of the best things to do in Mérida, notably the Mayan World Museum, some of them unique things off the beaten path. In particular, what to do in Merida at night, like pub crawling, dancing, and some upscale restaurants. Also, for those lazy dazs, things to do in Mérida Centro, where we can find the majority of activities, such as the several free walking tours which start downtown. I have also a list of few free things to do in Mérida.

I tell you where to stay in Mérida, which are the best hotels, in particular, fancy boutique hotels.

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