In this post, I will share a rich list of the most popular Mexican sweets and snacks that you should try during your trip to Mexico. After reading this post you will become an expert in Mexican snacks and food in general and you can brag about it with your traveling companions, but most of all you will be able to eat your Mexican snacks like a local.
First of all, you must know that in Mexico we call our snacks “botanas” and they have their origins in the prehispanic times because the majority of their basic ingredients are part of our staples: corn, chile, fruits, and vegetables.
On the other hand, sweets and candies didn’t appear until colonial times. In Mexico, for the sweets and candies to appear, we need to wait for the sugar cane and for the milk and the eggs.
Our snacks reflect what used to be eaten in markets and the ways in which the original people used to cook or eat.
Our sweets and candies, instead, reveals the syncretism between the pre and post-Spanish culture, as we will see how they originate in convents with nuns and friars.
Snacks and sweets both have many stories to tell, like the one of the “Chalupas” of Puebla and “El barrio de San Francisco” where it is said they started to be served and sold first, or like the one of the museum of La Calle Real in Morelia, Michoacan where they started making sweets since 1840.
Join me in going over a little bit of the history of our most popular candies, sweets, and snacks.
The most popular Mexican sweets
Mexican candies and sweets (dulces Mexicanos) are a very important part of the Mexican food culture, but, it is not until colonial times that these start to be made in Mexico.
Nevertheless, also in the pre-Hispanic times, you can find some sweet elements like the ants’ honey, bees honey, and the corn plant honey. Amaranth seed is endemic to the territory, and so, there is a possibility that during those times it could have been sweetened with any of these kinds of honey, which would be the precursor to the famous “alegría”. And, another possible pre-Hispanic sweet could be the cooked Maguey stalk, which would be chewed to drink the agave syrup.
Once in colonial times, Mexican cuisine started to evolve to what we know today, but, in the case of candies and sweets, it all happened in convents. Nuns and friars from all the orders brought to the territory their recipes and of course elements like the sugar cane, the eggs, the milk, and even spices from other colonies, like cinnamon for example.
This is a good moment to share a fun fact that I learned at the sweets and candies museum in Morelia, Michoacan, and it is that indeed, nuns and friars would bring the recipes, but, they wouldn’t do the hard work. They would have the indigenous and mestizo women making the candies and the sweets, so, these women would “steal” (memorizing them) the recipes to make them in their home and sell them. This is how many of the most popular candies and sweets became a very important element to the Mexican families’ economy during and after colonial times.
If you are ever in Mexico, there is a possibility that there will be a museum or a gallery to honor our candies and sweets. Please do yourself a favor and go to them. I can recommend the following: “El Museo del Alfeñique” and the sweets and candies street in Puebla. The museum “La Calle Real” in Morelia, Michoacán, and the candies and sweets market at San Cristobal de Las Casas, in Chiapas.
And now, onto the list of the most popular Mexican sweets and candies.
Yes, we have chocolate here. Of course, it is not the same as European chocolate, but we have it and it started more as a drink. The states that are renowned for the best chocolate in Mexico are Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Alegrias de amaranto
It’s the amaranth seed toasted mixed with boiled raw sugar put together in blocks. This mixture can add as well other seeds and dry fruits.
Camote from Puebla (Yam)
This is a candy whose main ingredient is a yam paste cooked with sugar. Originally, the first fruit mixed with it for a different flavor was the pineapple, but today we have guava, coconut, lemon, or strawberry. The paste is formed into a shape similar to a cigar and wrapped up in waxed paper to be placed in a small, thin cardboard box.
Rompope is also a drink, but I add it here because it is sweet and it was created in a convent, and, it is also an important ingredient that is used as well to make a lot of other sweets, candies, and desserts like Jell-O and flan. Rompope is our version of eggnog. It is made with milk, cinnamon, eggs, sugar, and a bit of rum.
I have to say this is my favorite and, if you have a sweet tooth like me, warning! It is dangerous. It comes in different sizes of bottles and containers. I swear to you; I can go through any of them in just a few days. La Cajeta is basically a spread made of burnt sweet goat milk. Its origins are found in Celaya in the state of Guanajuato. To the traditional burnt milk, we find presentations to which other two ingredients can be added, either vanilla or a small percentage of drinking alcohol.
These are our Mexican “granola bars”. They are made mostly with peanuts and raw sugar syrup, but today we find all kinds of palanquetas made with other seeds like almonds or pumpkin seeds. History has it that palanquetas in Mexico were first made with toasted corn mixed with bees’ honey.
This is a very popular sweet that comes from a cactus called “biznaga” which unfortunately is in danger of extinction. This cactus is endemic to the state of Chihuahua. In Mexico, it is now illegal to commercialize this plant as it has been protected by the government. This fruit and candy are mostly known to have been used as part of the stuffing in the “Chiles en Nogada” and as decoration for the “Rosca de Reyes” (3 kings bread). Nowadays these dishes use crystallized fruits or jelly.
Tamarindos con chile y azúcar
Tamarind is a fruit from a tree and it’s sweet and sour. We make a paste with it and cover it in chili pepper, salt, and sugar. This candy is found in many places of Mexico, but if you ever ask, we will tell you: “Go to Acapulco!”
They are a soft fudge-type Candy but made with “burnt milk” and walnuts. They come from Nuevo Leon.
The Mazapan is originally made in Mexico with peanuts (now there are other kinds). It’s literally a sweetened peanut powder formed into the shape of a small hockey disc and wrapped in a type of cellophane paper. The fun fact about this candy is that it is always a challenge to eat it. One wants to bite on it, but, the reality is that more times than not, it all breaks and we end up eating not pieces, but the powder, and of course, we make a mess.
I am going to wrap up the detailed list here, but, I do not want to leave without mentioning the names of many other popular Mexican candies and sweets out there.
You should go look for them, try them, they are great:
- borrachitos – corn starch, fruits, liquor and sugar
- tortitas de Santa Clara, cookies (from Puebla)
- Pepitorias – wheat, pumpkin seed and honey
- Calabaza en dulce – sweet pumpkin
- Cocadas – coconut, sugar, milk and cinnamon
- Ate – fruit jelly
- Merengue – traditionally made from whipped egg whites and sugar
- Mueganos – wheat, anis seed, cinnamon and raw sugar syrup
A bit of history of the Mexican snacks
It is important to say that Mexican snacks can be found everywhere: at home, at friends’ parties, special celebrations, and even fine-dining Mexican restaurants, but, the most popular Mexican snacks have their origins on the streets, in the “tianguis” or in the markets. Tianguis is a word that comes from the indigenous language “Nahuatl” and means itinerant market.
Also, one more characteristic that is important to mention about the most popular Mexican snacks from their origins is that many of them are made using what we call a “fogón” and a “comal”. The “fogón” is basically the pre-Hispanic stove that was made in a very rudimentary way, at ground level mostly, using firewood and stones. The “comal” is, in its origins, a disc dish made with unpolished clay.
Eventually, after the Spanish came and all the syncretism started happening, our “fogón” developed into other types of “stoves” like the anáfres, but, it doesn’t matter where or how today’s snacks are made of and on, we still find the old ways in many villages, towns, and even the urban centers.
But, let’s go straight to the subject, shall we?
11 of the most popular Mexican snacks
These super popular and traditional snacks involve the 3 elements that we mentioned at the beginning:
- staple food, found in open spaces like markets and the street
- the fogon, or the anafre, where they are they are prepared
Elotes and esquites
Have you ever seen them or tried them during your trips to Mexico? Have you noticed in the squares the long lines of people standing in front of a simple tricycle or food cart? Those are for sure selling Esquites. But what are they? The esquites are threshed and boiled with epazote (an aromatic herb) and served in a disposable cup. The Elote is simply the tender corn on its cobb stuck to a stick for easy handling. Both of these snacks are topped with: mayonnaise, lime, chili pepper, salt, and cheese. Obviously, that’s the Mexican way but you can choose to skip any of those toppings.
These snacks head the list as they are found everywhere in Mexico and besides different elements in their preparation, they are also given different names.
Just thinking of them makes my mouth water. I love them so much! Codiztos are basically the fried rolled taco version of Yucatan. Originally, they are served “empty”, and so, that is what they are called “taquitos de nada” as well (tacos of nothing). What I LOVE about them is the red sauce and the cheese on top they are served with. The red sauce is made with tomato, cilantro, and a bit of chile.
It ends up tasting a bit sour, which I love; and then the cheese is a powdery cheese that we call “queso sopero” (soup cheese), which also has a bit of a savory and sour flavor.
This snack offers for me the exact flavors I enjoy and the crunch of the fried tortilla. When I was in elementary and secondary school, every time my mom would give me money to buy my lunch, this is what I would have. The school served them filled with mashed potatoes though. They were yummy.
Another one of my favorites. I call it the “Mexican hummus”. It is a dip made with roasted pumpkin seed and tomato. It is yummy as well, and also very healthy.
Definitely, my third favorite, although, even if I am now mainly vegetarian, I still indulge in eating one of these, once in a blue moon. Many people don’t know this but Yucatan has a strong influence from Lebanon, and so, the kibis are just one of their legacies. The kibi is a kind of meatball made with wheat and stuffed with ground meat. The “ball” is fried until crispy. They are sold on the street mainly, carried in acrylic boxes on men’s and women’s shoulders. They are served on a paper type of napkin and prepared in front of you with cabbage, pickled onion, and a bit of habanero and lime sauce.
Do I need to explain further? Is there anyone that doesn’t know what Guacamole is? Guacamole is one of the favorite snacks and appetizers for many people in the whole world. It is delicious and healthy (except for the corn chips, of course). It is served in the whole country, but it is said its origins are found in the center of Mexico.
Yes, we have gaspachos. They are from Morelia in Michoacan, but, it is said that their version is an adaptation from the Spanish gazpacho that is served with similar spices and cold, but, in Morelia, they use local fruits. Gaspacho looks like a pico de gallo but traditionally it is chopped mango, pineapple, and jicama. Nowadays they use many more fruits but this is how it started. The interesting thing about this dish is that once the fruit is chopped and served in a plastic cup, it is seasoned with squeezed lime, orange, vinegar, onion, chile, and cheese. I know it sounds heavy, and it is, but, if you take it like me, “sin cebolla” (without onion), it is just delicious and super fresh.
The chapulines are the famous crickets eaten in Oaxaca in very diverse forms but made famous in photos by placing them right beside a shot of Mezcal. Eating insects in Mexico is part of the pre-Hispanic times, and, maybe the tradition was forgotten, but, our chapulines are making a comeback indeed.
I love to eat them crunchy with lemon, salt, and chile, but, we can find them only salted or with garlic as well. Chapulines are used crushed to be served as a garnish or ground to be used as a spice. Chapulines are full of protein and so, if grilled, they are super healthy. I really enjoy buying them as a snack.
Would you dare try them?
Tostilocos are actually a brand of corn chips in a bag and we make the crazy preparation inside that bag. Tostilocos are usually combined with elements, like corn, cheese, sour cream, chile chamoy (a sweet and sour spicy syrup), jellies with or without chile, cucumber, jicama, and more.
Fun fact: we have something called DORILOCOS as well, and for that, we use the very known DORITOS. This is a modern snack; it goes back to the nineties only.
This is a type of flavored frozen drink / crushed ice of flavors like lime, pineapple, strawberry mango, or tamarind. The twist to it is that we put once again chili pepper and liquid chamoy syrup. It’s spicy and refreshing during hot days.
Frutas y verduras con chile / Jicaleta
All over the towns, you will always find people selling chopped fruits or veggies like mango, watermelon, jicama, cucumber, and a combination of all of them. The twist is, yes, you guessed, we add to it all salt, lime, chili pepper, and chamoy.
In Mexico we call chicharrón the fried pork skin, but, what I am talking about here it is not that. This “prepared chicharrón” is basically a flat, rectangular, piece of fried wheat. It is prepared with a lot of extra elements on top like cream, cabbage, tomato, avocado, and pickled pork skin. These are super popular in the fairs everywhere in Mexico, but, you definitely see them the most in Mexico City.
And you should also know a cool fact about our Mexican “botanas” (snacks).
Back in the days, around the end of revolution times, we had what was called a “pulqueria” or a “cantina”. Both were places where alcohol was served and only men were allowed. It was known at these places that salty or spicy food would make people drink more, so, they made it a common practice to include all kinds of botanas (snacks) with your drinks. These places have been replaced with restaurants and bars, where everyone is allowed, but, we can still find some cantinas turned into places for the whole family that continues serving botanas with your drinks. The experience is a treat and the food is always great. Make sure to not forget to ask if there is a cantina or place like these wherever you go in Mexico.
Mexican gastronomy is an art and one that deserves all the recognition.
Writing about it is writing about diversity, culture, complexity, creativity, and more, and, as I hope I was able to show, snacks, sweets and candies are no less part of it than the rest of its elements.
I do believe that through our food, you can get to know us, and, as the snacks and the candies are mostly found on the street, trying them, would take you to connect to another part of our culture, a very real one.
So now you know where to find them and what to ask for. Now tell me, what do you choose? Savory or sweet?
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About the Author
Bianca is a woman, Mexican, a traveler, an ally, a dreamer, a creative, 100% human and so much more. Bianca has +20 years of experience in personal travel throughout 3 continents, and many countries, cities, towns, and communities. She also comes with +20 years of experience with customer service in the hospitality and tourism industries. A passionate advocate of her country (despite it all), an amateur writer & blogger, art lover, certified yoga teacher, entrepreneur, neophyte researcher, philosophy fan, and knowledge obsessed, she has one dream and mission in life:
“To achieve, through her venture, for travel to be considered and used as a tool for a better education and human development in Mexico”
And, even if in baby steps, she is making the dream, come true through her brand: Mexico4Real Journeys.