Mexican foods and Mexican-inspired dishes are very popular in the United States. The Europeans imported many of the spices used in Mexican food to America, so the spices are not native to Mexico. However, these same spices and herbs give the Mexican food its distinctive flavor.
Cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant. It tastes like a mix of parsley and citrus and gives a strong flavor to the food. There are Sanskrit writings from 1500 BC that mention the cilantro, making it one of the first herbs ever mentioned in historical records. The Romans spread the cilantro throughout Europe, and it was one of the first herbs imported to American at the time of the Spanish conquest. It is a primary herb used in the Mexican cuisine and can be found in guacamole, salsa, meat, fish and other foods.
Cumin is the seed of a small herb named Cuminum cyminum, that is native to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. The cumin seed is elliptical with deep furrows. The Europeans first imported cumin to America during the exploration and colonization period. Used in Mexican dishes, such as chili con carne and hot tamales, cumin provides a spicy, powerful and slightly bitter taste.
There are two types of oregano: Mexican and Mediterranean. The Mexican oregano is the stronger of the two. It has a strong smell and taste and is found in meat and cheese dishes. It is also one of the ingredients for chili powder – a popular spice mix.
Red pepper is another name for ground chili pepper. Fresh peppers are usually not longer than 4 inches (10 cm) and are red or orange-red. The ground chili pepper varies from orange-red to red and dark red. The red pepper is native to Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The Spanish first imported them from America to Europe. Before the Spanish conquest, Native Americans used chili peppers medicinally, to treat stomach aches and other diseases. Chili powder, a common spice mix, is a combination of red pepper, garlic, oregano and cumin. Red pepper gives Mexican food its characteristic flavor.