The Essential Ingredients in the Mexican Diet

Learn about some of the essential ingredients of the Mexican diet, as well as some mouth-watering recipes you can make at home.
The Essential Ingredients in the Mexican Diet

Last update: 01 November, 2021

Some of the top ingredients of the Mexican diet have crossed its borders into other countries. Vanilla, cocoa, avocado, corn, chili, and potatoes all originate from this country. Without them, a large number of recipes would be unthinkable!

In addition, Mexican gastronomy and traditional recipes have become common in other countries. Today, it’s on the same level as the Mediterranean, Japanese, and French diets, all four of which have been recognized as Intangible World Heritage.

Mexican gastronomy: An ancestral culture

Mexican gastronomy is characterized by a large number of dishes and recipes and by the use of the most varied ingredients and condiments. It’s a symbol of national identity, collectively prepared and based on the use of products native to the land.

Green tomatillo sauces, corn tacos, and grilled carnitas are an explosion of textures, colors, and flavors. They make it one of the most appetizing and striking cuisines in the world.

Its origins date back to the pre-Hispanic period. Corn, tomato, and chilies were the base of the cuisine, which was completed with meat, fish, herbs, and chocolate, among other ingredients.

Over the centuries, the Mexican diet has been enriched with ingredients contributed by the Spanish conquistadors and migrant peoples. And although there is a great difference between regions, some dishes have become characteristic throughout the country, such as cochinita pibil, mole poblano, pozole, and purepecha curundas.

If you want to know more about the most common ingredients used in the Mexican diet, we’ll offer you a detailed list of them and two typical recipes of this country.

The most common ingredients in the Mexican diet

A large number of foods are present in the base of all gastronomies. However, some of them are more remarkable, either for the variety of their use, their symbolism, or for being the protagonists of emblematic recipes. These are the most relevant in Mexican kitchens.

Chile peppers

Mexican pantries can never be missing chilies, an ingredient that provides a very distinctive spicy flavor. In this country, they have a great variety of them and the best known are poblano, habanero, jalapeño, pasilla, morita, and chipotle.

Chilies can be added fresh, dried, ground, or cooked. They’re omnipresent in sauces, moles, and dressings. However, given their wide variety, there are many possibilities to include them in recipes depending on the color, shape, and degree of heat.

Chile en un plato de frijoles.
Mexican chilies make their presence felt in various dishes of the country’s gastronomy.


Domesticated by the Mayas and Aztecs, the tomato is a universal food with Mexican origins. Its most typical preparations are cooked and fresh sauces. The latter are prepared with some of the basic ingredients in the Mexican diet: tomatoes, onions, chilies, and cilantro.

However, tomatoes also form part of almost all culinary preparations. They give color to soups, broths, purees, salads, ceviches, and rice dishes. Plus, it’s also possible to enjoy fresh tomato juice!


Although they’re not a native ingredient, onions are widely used throughout the country and are found in the base of many dishes. This includes soups, stews, and sauces. They’re also commonly added to salads, tacos, soups, and gorditas, either raw, pickled, or roasted.

Corn: One of the daily essential ingredients in the Mexican

Along with wheat and rice, corn is one of the three most consumed grains in the world. Plus, it’s an essential food in Mexico. It continues to be a basic and self-sufficient crop for many peasant and indigenous communities.

As José de Jesús Cuevas Mejía points out, the list of preparations in which corn is present can be infinite! For centuries, it has been used ground to make all kinds of dough, such as tortillas. Corn is used daily by almost all Mexicans. They fill corn tortillas with beans, rice, meat, or stews. They also eat them in the form of tacos, enchiladas, or chilaquiles.

However, it’s also common to consume the whole grain roasted. It can be seasoned with lime, chili, and mayonnaise (esquites), or in the form of soup with vegetables and meat (pozole). In addition, corn can also be used in drinks such as tejuino or atole.

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This is an essential companion of corn. It’s a very prominent part of Mexican cuisine. Of the 150 species known in the world, 50 are found only in this country. They can be purple, black, white, yellow, berry and pinto.

Beansare present in the majority of antojitos, such as tlacoyos or panuchos. They’re also protagonists of basic dishes, such as refried beans, frijoles charros, or frijoles puercos.


Along with the two previous ingredients, pumpkin is the third pillar of the basic Mexican diet since pre-Hispanic times. Their cultivation dates back 7,500 years. Of all the varieties, the most common is green or yellow.

This ingredient is cooked whole. Plus, the pulp is used to prepare tamales and moles. In addition, it’s also found in sweet preparations, such as the pumpkin in the tacha typical of the Day of the Dead. It’s prepared with guava, sugar, and cinnamon.

Nopal: The most emblematic among the ingredients of the Mexican diet

Nopal is a cactus and is a symbol of the country around the world. It was the staple food of the Nahuatl civilization, valued for its flavor as well as for its nutritional composition and properties.

Once the thorns are removed, it’s used in salads, soups, stews, or pickled.


This fruit has been grown in Mexico for about 5,000 years. Today, it’s one of its major exports. Its worldwide popularity is due to its great versatility in the kitchen, its delicate flavor, and texture, and for being a highly nutritious ingredient.

Guacamole is one of the most international recipes of Mexican cuisine. It’s prepared with mashed avocados. Sliced avocado is also added to many dishes, such as beans, ceviches, rice, soups, and broths.


The history of dairy products in Mexico begins with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Most of the native cheeses are made with cow’s milk. Some are known throughout the country. Meanwhile, others are produced regionally.

Cheese is an important ingredient in gastronomy that adds flavor and creamy texture to many preparations. Chihuahua, Oaxaca, cotija, fresco or adobero cheeses are used to cover enchiladas, beans or tacos.


Cilantro is very prominent among the ingredients of the Mexican diet, to which it contributes an intense citric flavor with a slight spicy touch. The fresh leaves are added to flavor fish and seafood and to garnish guacamole, tacos, or pico de gallo salsa.

Tacos mexicanos.
Mexican dishes have a special flavor and often come in a variety of colors.

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Huevos rancheros recipe

A star breakfast in this country is huevos rancheros. These scrambled eggs are served on corn tortillas, and optionally accompanied by fried plantains.

To make 2 servings, you will need the following:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 onion
  • Chili powder
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 large tomato
  • Corn tortillas
  • 1 large tomato
  • Avocado to taste
  • Salt and pepper

Here’s how to make them:

  1. To start, peel and dice the onion and fry in a pan with oil until golden brown. Add the diced tomato and cook for 2 minutes. Then, stir a couple of times to mix everything.
  2. In a bowl, beat the eggs a little and add them to the frying pan with the onion and tomato. Lower the heat and add a good handful of chopped coriander. Season to taste and cook the eggs as desired.
  3. To serve, you can place them on top of some corn tortillas and decorate them with some avocado slices. However, if you have some leftovers from previous meals (mushrooms, chicken, a bit of ham), you can add all the desired ingredients.

More recipes with basic ingredients in the Mexican diet: Quesadillas

Antojitos are a very common type of street food in Mexican markets, both in the morning and in the afternoon. Some of the best known are tacos, tamales, and gorditas. Also, quesadillas, which are made with corn tortillas filled with cheese, are folded in half and toasted on a griddle.

The most commonly used cheeses in Mexico are Chihuahua and Oaxaca. However, you can also use mozzarella, Emmental, cheddar, or any other cheese that melts well. The cheese can be accompanied by a variety of other ingredients, such as avocado, tomato, chicken, refried beans, mushrooms, roasted peppers, or chorizo.

Enjoy cooking with the typical ingredients of the Mexican diet

Summarizing the wide variety of ingredients of the Mexican diet in 10 foods is not an easy task. After all, it’s a type of gastronomy formed by a collective history of local culinary traditions. However, these basics will help you get started and get to know this rich and diverse cuisine a little better.

The use of these ingredients is up to you. However, no matter which you choose, know that they’re healthy and tasty foods that guarantee a delicious culinary experience. So without further ado, we encourage you to try them!

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