Spices: tradition and health with a taste of Mexico

The following is a list of the most commonly used spices in Mexican cuisine, as well as their benefits in the dishes and beverages in which they are commonly consumed.

Spices: tradition and health with a taste of Mexico
Tradition and good health with a taste of Mexican spices. Photo by Conscious Design / Unsplash

From the north to the south of the country, meals change because each dish characterizes its typical cuisine with the special and particular touch given by Mexican spices, which take the diner on an aromatic and gustatory journey through centuries of history, cultures, and peoples.

A spice is a vegetable substance, with mainly aromatic qualities, which is used to flavor food; that is, it is an ingredient that adds flavor, aroma, and sometimes even color to our preparations. Among the native Mexican spices are achiote, cinnamon, processed chiles (dried, pickled and smoked), coriander, cloves, cumin, epazote, yerba santa, bay leaf, oregano, parsley, white and black pepper, paprika, and rosemary.

The spices are obtained from three different sources:

Tree bark, such as cinnamon.
Seeds, such as annatto, cumin, anise, cloves, and pepper.
Herbs, such as epazote, bay leaf, thyme, mint, mint, coriander, and oregano.

The following is a list of the most commonly used spices in Mexican cuisine, as well as their benefits in the dishes and beverages in which they are commonly consumed.


Achiote is considered an important source of vitamin A and carotenoids that help regulate blood sugar levels, as well as reduce inflammation and healing. It contains a carotenoid called norbixin, which could prevent the development of different types of cancer, such as prostate, liver, and throat cancer, as well as help to prevent different eye diseases such as cataracts, premature blindness, and visual macular degeneration. Achiote is used to marinate and color meats used for dishes: tacos al pastor and cochinita pibil, mainly, as well as rice and pork.


Cinnamon contains phenolic acids and flavonoids such as catechin, which act as antioxidants to fight cancer. It is traditionally used to relieve stomach pain, as it has a high tannin content, and also as an expectorant. Cinnamon is used to flavor beverages and bakery, mainly, and in the preparation of mole and infusions.


Clove contains flavonoids and eugenol, which protect the body from damage produced by oxidizing agents, besides having anti-inflammatory properties and contributing to reducing blood sugar levels. It has been traditionally used as an expectorant and to reduce the presence of bacterial plaque in the mouth, as it acts as an antimicrobial. Clove is used in the preparation of infusions and hot drinks and desserts such as cookies and rice pudding, as well as in sauces and to marinate meats.


Epazote contains vitamin A, also known as retinol, and vitamin C. In addition, it contains a large number of antioxidants such as flavonoids, which protect against cellular aging. As dried leaves, epazote is used for infusions and to flavor dishes such as frijoles de olla, mole verde de olla, esquites, and a variety of sauces.


Oregano contains rosmarinic acid and flavonoids that can inhibit the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which may prevent cardiovascular disease and also free radical damage. It has the potential to lower blood glucose. Oregano is used for making salad dressings, marinating meats, infusions, and bakery products.

In summary, it is important to mention that, in addition to providing a diversity of flavors, smells, and colors to food, spices contribute a large number of bioactive compounds to our body, which has been related to the prevention of diseases such as diabetes, arterial hypertension and, additionally, they could strengthen the immune system.

By María Fernanda Herrera Salguero, student at the Los Mochis Technological Institute attached to CIAD's Research Initiation Program, and Erick Paul Gutiérrez Grijalva, Conacyt Chairs researcher assigned to CIAD's Culiacán Regional Coordination.