What are the Main Ingredients in Mexican Food?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2018
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Mexican food has been popular in the United States for many decades. This cuisine made its way across the Texas and California borders in the 1800s and Americans have fallen in love with it's spices and flavors.

Americans are usually most familiar with the "Tex Mex" variety. This includes refried beans, Mexican rice, tortillas, burritos, enchiladas and nachos. However, authentic Mexican food includes many more dishes and flavors than what is found in the average fast food restaurant. It is a combination of the Spanish cuisine brought in by the conquistadors, mixed with the native foods of the Mayans and Aztecs, as well as of the Apache and Mojave tribes. It is, in many ways, a "creole" cuisine, since it borrows from many cultures.

The main ingredients in Mexican food often depend on where one is in the country. If a traveler is near the coast, seafood is a dominant ingredient. Beef and chicken are always popular meats, as is pork and goat. Food may be flavored with chili powder, cilantro, garlic, onion, cumin, black pepper and even brown sugar and cocoa powder, as in mole sauce. Cuisine from Mexico generally has deep, complex flavors.


Staples foods include white flour or corn tortillas, beans, rice, and masa harina or corn flour. With these ingredients, including whatever fresh vegetables are in season and on hand, a Mexican cook can prepare a wide variety of dishes. Peppers like the ancho, poblano, chipotle, bell and jalapeño, are all popular as well.

Mexican food preparation may include stir-frying, deep frying or baking — it all depends on the dish and the cook. Dishes like tamales are popular in the U.S., but are also authentically Mexican. Menudo, a stew of tripe and hominy, is also an authentic dish. Cheese is also used in Mexican cooking, but usually not the "processed cheese food" often used in the U.S. Manchego, for instance, is a very popular cheese in Mexico.

A variety of sweets, often flavored with honey or cocoa, are also included in Mexican cuisine. Flan, a type of caramel custard, is a popular dish, as is coconut pudding. Pastries are also a favorite. Vanilla grows in Mexico, so this flavoring is also popular, and vanilla extract production is a booming industry.

With the influx of Mexican immigrants into the U.S., Mexican grocery stores are popping up everywhere. These are usually great places to start for a cook wanting to venture into the world of "real" Mexican food.


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Discuss this Article

Post 5
There are a number of ambitious chefs that are experimenting with new Mexican food. They are taking traditional ingredients and dishes and finding new ways to prepare them that incorporate international flavors and techniques.

When you think of a Mexican restaurants you usually think of a taqueria or a Tex-Mex place, but there are now some that can properly be called gourmet restaurants.

Post 4
What is the difference between traditional Mexican food and the Mexican food that gets served in most Mexican restaurants in the states. I know that there is probably no such thing as Mexican pizza, but what about enchiladas or tacos? Do these really get eaten in Mexico?

I am not so much interested in special occasion food. What do people eat on a day to day basis? What do people of modest means eat? What is dinner like for your average Mexican man or woman?

Post 3

I always keep beans, cheese, and tortillas in my house because you can whip up a quick, easy, and tasty meal in a jiffy. Who doesn't like a bean burrito? And with a little hot sauce or salsa it can be a really delicious meal. I know that if I have these things in my cupboard I will never go hungry.

Post 2

shoeshopper- You can often buy many ingredients for Mexican food at your local grocery store. However, the food that you get at the grocery store might not be authentic.

Try visiting a Hispanic food store just to see what ingredients they have. Browse the store and make notes on the items they carry and the prices they charge. Compare the list with the food you see at the local grocery store.

This will help you find out what ingredients are necessary to buy at the Hispanic market and what ingredients you can get at the grocery store.

Post 1

Is it necessary to buy ingredients for Mexican food at a Hispanic food market or can I buy these ingredients at the local grocery store?

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