Mexican Chocolate

Cacao is native to South America and has been grown for three thousand years in Central America and Mexico. The ancient people of Mesoamerica including the Mayas drank chocolate beverages. The Aztecs called the drink xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water.”

Mexican chocolate today is flavored with cinnamon, almonds and vanilla. It is sweet and is much grainier than other chocolates. It is commonly used not only in hot chocolate drinks, but also in making traditional sauces such as mole poblano, mole negro and mole rojo.

Ibarra is a Mexican brand of chocolate para mesa, which in English can be translated as “table chocolate.” Although it can be eaten the way Americans snack on chocolate bars, Ibarra tablets are primarily used to make traditional Mexican hot cocoa. Heat some milk close to boiling point and then blend with the chocolate tablillas in a blender.

The chocolate of Grupo Ibarra is in the form of tablets packaged in a red-and-yellow hexagon-shaped cardboard box. The letters of the name “IBARRA” are also molded into the chocolate. Ingredients: sugar, cacao nibs, lecithin and cinnamon flavoring.

Another popular Mexican brand of chocolate tablets is Abuelita from the Nestlé company. It too is used to make Mexican-style hot chocolate.

When you want to make mole but can’t find a Latino supermarket to buy Mexican chocolate from, you can try substituting semisweet chocolate and add a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a drop of almond extract.

Mexican Coriander = Culantro

CULANTRO is often mistaken for cilantro by English speakers. Although culantro and coriander (cilantro leaves) are in the same plant family, they are of different species.

The scientific name of the cilantro plant is Coriandrum sativum, while the scientific name of culantro is Eryngium foetidum.

Also known as fitweed, long coriander, wild coriander, spiritweed, sawtooth, saw-leaf herb in English, culantro is an herb native to Mexico and South America. It is now grown all over the world.

It is used in salsa and to spice up soups and stews. You can use it in rice dishes like arroz al culantro, chicken dishes like pollo al culantro, or mix it up with frijoles negros (black beans).

Mexican Yellow Bean = Mayacoba

These pale yellow beans of medium size are known as Peruano or Peruvian beans of the Andes, but are native to Mexico. They are also known as frijoles canarios (canary beans) because of the color. They are rich and buttery, and will stay relatively firm after being fully cooked, absorbing the flavors of whatever they are prepared with.

There was a controversy surrounding a variety of the Mexican Yellow Bean when in the 1990s an American from Colorado was granted a twenty-year patent for the plant. He called it the Enola Bean in his application and filings. After the approval, he was able to impose a royalty fee on yellow beans imported from Mexico into the United States.

Later, it was brought to the attention of the US Patent Office that the bean had been familiar to Latin American farmers and consumers for over a hundred years as azufrado or Frijol Mayacoba. The patent was overturned in the reexamination process.

COOKING DIRECTIONS: Rinse and sort the beans. Soak in cold water, ideally overnight. Drain and then add fresh water, enough to cover the beans with three inches of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. It should be finished cooking in 20 minutes.

You can mix the beans into rice and soups and even to cold salads and pasta.

Tomatillo = Mexican Green Tomato

The plant with the scientific name Physalis philadelphica bears the fruit that Mexicans refer to as tomate verde (green tomato). It belongs to the same Solanaceae nightshade family of the tomato. Tomatillos are also called husk tomatoes in English because the fruit is surrounded by a papery husk.

Buy them with the husks still on to guarantee freshness. You can store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Tomatillos can turn yellow when ripe, but use them in cooking while they are still green and firm.

Tomatillos can be added raw in salads and to salsas such as… salsa verde! Use them in guacamole and other sauces. For something different, try roasting the tomatillos before adding them to the guacamole.


Epazote is an herb native to southern Mexico. The plant has the scientific name Dysphania ambrosioides and has been referred to in English as wormseed, Jesuit’s tea and Mexican tea.

It is a leaf vegetable used for its strong pungent flavor. It has been variously described as tasting like fresh coriander and even having the licorice taste of anise.

Traditionally, epazote is prepared with beans because of the belief that this herb reduces abdominal gas. Mix it in refried beans or frijoles negros.

Epazote is also used in other traditional Mexican dishes like quesadillas, tamales, chilaquiles and enchiladas.

Yes, it can be prepared in tea as well.