Spices have flavored and colored Mexican cuisine since pre-Columbian times. The earliest were the seeds of achiote, allspice, chiles and the vanilla orchid, all natives of Mexico. After the Spanish invasion, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper came to Mexico through the voyages of the Nao de China, which traveled between the Philippines and the Pacific port of Acapulco. Coriander, saffron and cumin were introduced from the Mediterranean.
The annatto seed is used in certain regional dishes in southern Mexico. The small tree produces a brown, rough-skinned, oval husk that has very small seeds covered with a layer of matte red pigment. Recado rojo, a reddish seasoning paste, comes from grinding the whole achiote seed with other spices.
The allspice berry comes from a graceful tree in the Myrtle family (native to Mexico) that has highly aromatic, elongated leaves. The berries are picked and dried once they are mature.
The seed of the anise plant flavors some moles, desserts, syrups, cakes and regional Mexican liqueurs.
The bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka and India, cinnamon flavors cooked fruits and dessert syrups as well as café de olla. Small quantities season meats, stews and moles nicely.
Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree native to the Molucca Islands. Ground cloves and a mixture of other spices are delicious in cooked sauces and seasoning pastes or adobos.
Sesame seeds are indispensable in many moles and are the traditional mole poblano garnish. They also top sandwich rolls called cemitas and a variety of other baked goods. The leaves are a flavoring ingredient in some blended teas.COMINOS (cumin)These flavorful and highly aromatic seeds, whole or ground, flavor a wide variety of Mexican meat stews and soups. This annual, which grows to about a foot tall, needs warm, moist growing conditions.