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Popular Spices for Mexican Cookery

Mexican food is colourful and spicy, but not usually blow-your-head-off hot. Like all international cuisines, Mexican cookery relies on a variety of spices to impart its characteristic flavours. These are just some of the spices used in Mexican cuisine.

Chilli powder

This blend of dried chillies, oregano and cumin is used to flavour many Mexican dishes. It’s mainly used for meat, poultry and vegetables. Chilli powders vary in intensity, with one of the hottest being chipotle, which is made from smoked and dried jalapeno peppers. Chipotle is one of the main ingredients of adobo sauce. Juajillo is another spicy chilli powder. Go for anocho for a sweeter, fruity mild chilli flavour, or pasilla is a good medium hot flavouring. Use it in beans and sauces. Chilli powder is indispensible to Mexican cookery.

Cayenne pepper

A blend of hot dried chillies, cayenne is added to recipes for extra heat. It’s also used as a condiment at the table for those who like their Mexican food really hot.


This is often thought of as an Asian spice, but coriander is also widely used in Mexican cookery. Coriander is used in burritos, meat dishes and salsas. It also adds a clean, fresh taste to salads. Coriander is also known as cilantro in Mexico.

Mexican Oregano

Stronger than its Mediterranean counterpart, Mexican oregano is found in chilli powder. It’s also used to flavour egg and cheese dishes, enchillada sauce and chicken recipes.


One of the spices in chilli powder, cumin is also used as a stand alone spice. Cumin is used to flavour enchilladas, chalupas and different rice dishes.


Cinnamon is mainly used in Mexican dessert recipes, such as sweet empanadas or fried ice cream. It can also be used in savoury dishes, especially tomato-based recipes.


This little known Mexican spice is most commonly used in bean recipes, where it serves the dual purpose of flavouring the beans and calming the gastric problems which are often associated with eating large quantities of beans. Also called ‘Mexican Tea,’ epazote can be toxic in large doses, so it should only be used by someone familiar with the spice.

Recado Rojo

This spice blend contains annatto seeds, which impart a red colour to the spice mix and the recipes it’s used in. Spices used in recado rojo include cloves, cumin, cinnamon, oregano and garlic. Spice blends serve a dual purpose – they can be rubbed into food before cooking, or used in the creation of sauces.

For an authentic taste of Mexico, use these spices in your Mexican recipes. And don’t forget the garlic and onions – almost every Mexican savoury recipe includes these indispensible ingredients.