Guatemalan Spices

By Marie-Pier Rochon

Guatemalan cuisine is know for its various influences which include its proximity to Mayan communities, the power of Spain during its rule from 1524 to 1821 as well as all its other South American neighboring countries. As a result, Guatemalan cuisine contains many Spanish-type dishes while its ingredients are more closely linked to the influence of the Mayan and South American cultures. One common thread between these variations is the use of common spices.

Chilies abound in Guatemalan dishes and are complemented with other, smoother spices.

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Cardamom, one of the world's oldest spices, is also one of Guatemala's main export. It is not surprising then to find it in Guatemalan meals well-suited to Mayan and Spanish cuisines. Cardamom is an expensive spice. Surprisingly, it is often used to spice coffee because of its unique characteristics.


Cilantro is often used in Guatemalan cuisine because it complements chilies and many Guatemalan recipes include chili. One popular Mayan dish is "jocon" or "pollo en jocon." It is made with chicken immered in a sauce tinted green by tomatillos and cilantro and thickened with ground sesame and pumpkin seeds and corn tortillas.


Although technically chili peppers are a fruit, once dried, they are a spice and the Guatemalans do not hesitate to use it in all their meals. The flavor of a fresh chili is quite different once it is dried, but fresh chilies and dried chili spices are used in Guatemalan cuisine to add heat, sweetness and smokiness to meals. The versatility of chili makes it a popular spice not only in Guatemalan cuisine, but in foods from all South American countries.


Cinnamon is used in many Guatemalan desserts. A popular treat often served on holidays are "bunuelos." These are small doughnuts glazed with honey and cinnamon. Cinnamon is also used to season hot Christmas punch. As with cardamom, cinnamon can be used in coffee, hot chocolate and tea.