Acitrón is one of the few ingredients used for Mexican cooking that is still very hard to find outside of Mexico. Acitrón is made with the pad or paddle-leaf-of a cactus plant called biznaga, which is similar to the prickly pear but rounder in shape and it also grows in dry land. To make acitrón, the leaves are peeled off the outer skin along with the little thorns, sometimes soaked in a lime solution, dried in the sun and finally simmered in a syrup made with water and sugar or honey, then left to dry again.
Originally from Africa or India, hibiscus flowers arrived in Mexico in colonial times and have become deeply integrated into Mexican cuisine. Often used to prepare agua de jamaica, or freshly flavored water, fruit popsicles or Jell-O, the dried flowers infuse the liquid with a deep, vivid red color.
Achiote or Annatto seeds is a spice that grows heavily in the Yucatán area and is unique and native to this area. The seeds come from the Annatto tree, which grows beautiful pink flowers that produce a prickly pod which has dozens and dozens of these seeds inside.
The achiote paste or recado rojo, is one of the main seasonings of the Yucatecan cuisine. Although it is mainly known for its use as the base of a marinade in the Pibil style dishes, it is used in many other ways.
Incredibly long leaves from the banana tree, the banana leaves have a beautiful deep green color and a strong fragrant smell. They are often used in Mexican cooking to wrap and cook many kinds of foods including tamales, meats, fish and poultry.
Piloncillo is the rawest form of sugar cane. The same thing as cane juice but in a solid form. It typically comes in a block, with the shape of a cone, square or round.
The cinnamon mostly used in Mexican cuisine is called Ceylon, or Canela in Spanish, and it is also known as true cinnamon. It is quite different from Cassia, which is mostly found in US stores. However, as time moves on, one can find true cinnamon in an increasing number of stores here.
The epazote herb is one deeply Mexican ingredient that has no substitute that I know off. It has a very unique, clear and deep flavor that adds a lot of character to a dish. Hard to describe, it has that I don’t know what, that somehow makes a distinct difference.