Spices Used in South America

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Spices Used in South America

Many of the ingredients used in South American cooking are widely available internationally, but it is the particular mix of seasonings, which sometimes integrates the use of an indigenous crop, that grants South American cuisine its unique and textured flavors. Thyme, cilantro, oregano, capers, and olives are some frequently used spices or elements in Latin American cuisine, and they are staples in cuisine across the world. However, it is the addition of indigenous food  flavors such as aji or rocoto peppers that can give food its one-of-a-kind taste.


Ground beef, which is often found in empanadas or used as turkey stuffing at Christmas, is seasoned with cumin and can be mixed with any or all of the following items for its distinctive flavor: hard-boiled eggs, onions, olives, capers, raisins, dried shrimp, chilies and hearts of palm. The concoction is usually sprinkled with lime juice prior to serving.

Marinades, sauces and condiments are added to almost any meal in order to deepen its taste. Hot sauces are frequently applied to anything from eggs to empanadas to achieve a spicier result.

Aji sauces and chimichurris

Aji sauces and chimichurris are used to season steaks. Aji sauces usually consist of cilantro, green onions, vinegar, salt and lime juice. Chimichurris contain a heavy dose of garlic, aiis, cilantro, lime juice and coconut milk. Marinades for barbecued meat often integrate deep fruity flavors, such as canned guava, mango, oranges, pineapple, passion fruit, peaches, plums or pears, which are mixed with hot sauce. These marinades are also used to flavor potatoes, manioc, corn, beans, or as sides to seafood stews.

Soups and stews are often made with bland but versatile ingredients such as lima beans, black beans and chickpeas. However, lima beans, for example, are seasoned with salt, black pepper, lime juice, vinegar and chilies. Oil, salt and onions are added to most stews, as is a protein-rich Andean legume called tarwi or chocho.


Tarwi is also used in the make of ceviche, which is made by marinating raw sea bass, snapper, halibut or shellfish in acidic lemon, lime or orange juice. Red onions, garlic, black peppers and aiis are also added to the mix.

From the Spanish colonists, Latin Americans learned a method of pickling with Moorish origins known as escabeche. Cooked seafood or meat is pickled in a vinegar, onion, tomato and chillie-sauce. Spanish-style sauces called sofritos consist of a mixture of onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomatoes, sautéed in an annatto-infused oil called aceite de achiote.
In order to add distinctive flavors to snacks, breads and beverages, bananas, coconut milk, avocados and limes are often used.

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