Mexican cuisine uses a diverse range of ingredients and an array of culinary terms. Familiarise yourself with some of the most popular.
A is for…
The Spanish word for olive, the small fruit from the Oleaceae tree.
Alternatively known as Bixa orellana, achiote is a shrub grown across the Americas and West Indies. From its fruit, the widely used food colouring Annatto is made, though red Achiote paste is its main culinary use in Mexico. This is made by grinding up the plant’s seeds with garlic and vinegar or lime juice.
Made from the leaf of the biznaga cactus, acitrón is a sweet Mexican speciality – candied cactus fruit. To produce it, the leaves and thorns of the cactus are removed, sun-dried and cooked in a syrup of sugar or honey with water. The mixture is left to cool, before being shaped into square bars similar to a chocolate bar.
Adobo is an integral part of Mexican cuisine, and forms the basis of many different dishes. It is a spicy, smoky marinade that is used either as a powdered spice mix or a paste rub. Usually used to flavour meat or fish, it can also be added to beans, stews, sauces and rice. Precise ingredients may vary, but the marinade usually contains chilli peppers, paprika, oregano and garlic, plus vinegar or lime juice.
Aguacate is the Spanish word for another essential ingredient in Mexican cooking – the avocado (Persea americana). The avocado tree is actually native to Central Mexico.
Agua Fresca (literally meaning ‘fresh water’) is a type of cold beverage which is flavoured with fruit, seeds or sometimes grains.
Aguamiel, which means ‘honey water’ in Spanish, is the sap of the maguey plant. In Mexico, the sap is widely believed to have health benefits and has long been used as a medicine. It can also be fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.
Ahumado means ‘smoked’ and refers to the cooking method popular in Mexico of smoking meat, fish, vegetables and cheese over woodsmoke, or smoke from aromatic plants, to imbue it with extra flavour.
Another widely used ingredient in Mexican cuisine, ‘ajo’ is the Spanish for garlic.
Cubes of meat – usually chicken or beef – cooked with vegetables, and sometimes cheese and bacon too. The dish may be cooked and/or served on a skewer (alambre is the Spanish word for ‘wire’).
What Mexicans call the herb basil.
Mexican meatballs, usually made with ground beef and commonly served in a soup with a light broth and vegetables.
The Spanish word for clams. A popular Mexican recipe is Sopa de Almejas, similar to the American dish clam chowder – a soup made with clams and usually potatoes, and flavoured with garlic.
The Spanish word for the almond nut.
A light syrup often served with fruit.
Literally ‘lunch’, though it can be used to describe a mid-morning snack, breakfast or brunch, depending on context. The word almuerzo is often combined with adjectives – ‘almuerzo de trabajo’, for example, is a working lunch, and ‘almuerzo de negocios’ a business lunch.