Mexican candy, known as dulces in Spanish, is famous for its unique and vibrant flavors. Many classic Mexican candies contain ingredients commonly found in Mexican cuisine, like chili powder, tamarind, and lime. The candies are often brightly colored and whimsically shaped into animals or objects. So what exactly gives Mexican candy its distinctive kick?
The combination of spicy and sweet is a hallmark of Mexican candy. Chili powder, made from dried chilis, adds a punch of heat. Common types used include ancho, chipotle, and pasilla powders. The spices add a fiery kick that perfectly complements the sugary sweetness. Another popular ingredient is chamoy, a sauce made from pickled fruit that also provides a salty-spicy-sweet flavor. These ingredients give many Mexican candies ahot and sweet complexity unlike American candies.
Fruity flavors, like tamarind, mango, lime, and guava are also commonly found in Mexican candies. Tamarind, a pod-like tropical fruit, has a sour taste used to balance out sugar. Its pulp adds tanginess to candies like Pulparindo. Mango lends its tropical essence to candies like Duvalin. Lime is used in Lucas Mango-Chile candy, which also contains chili powder. Guava shows up in Mazapan de la Rosa Pegueros, combining its flavor with sweet marzipan.
Mexican candies highlight ingredients native to Mexico and important in its cuisine. These include:
- Huitlacoche – Corn smut fungus with an earthy, mushroomy flavor
- Ate – Sugar cane
- Tamarind – A tropical pod fruit
- Chili Powder
- Mamey – Sweet tropical fruit
Using authentic Mexican ingredients gives traditional candies their distinct regional flair.
Unique Shapes and Textures
Mexican candy comes in festive shapes with fun textures. Pulparindo is a tamarind pulp candy rolled into ropes. Mazapan, peanut candy, is molded into shapes like the Mexican flag. There are gummy candies formed as rattlesnakes, roosters, and skulls for Day of the Dead. Sticky, powdery, chewy, and hard candies add variety.
Here are some classic examples of Mexican candy:
Pulparindo has a sticky, chewy texture thanks to sweetened tamarind pulp. Chili powder gives it a kick. The rope shape makes it fun to eat.
Lucas Mango Chili
This mango tamarind salt candy is dusted in chili powder for a sweet and spicy taste. It has a crystalline crunch and unique flavor combo.
Mazapan are peanut candies often shaped into belts, fruits, or Day of the Dead motifs. The peanuts lend a dense, crumbly texture.
Ate de Guayaba
Made from sugar cane, this guava paste has a crumbly texture and sweet guava taste. It often contains chili powder too.
With three creamy layers – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – this ice cream-inspired candy melts in your mouth.
Mexican candy varies by region based on local ingredients and traditions. For example:
- Oaxaca uses native chocolate in candies.
- Michoacán uses fruit from its orchards like guava and mango.
- Veracruz uses citrus and peanuts from its coast.
- The north incorporates pecans and prickly pear cactus.
This regional diversity adds to the uniqueness of Mexican candies.
How It’s Made
Mexican candy is often homemade in family-run businesses and small factories. While some manufacturers do use machines, time-honored techniques are still widely used. These include:
- Molded by hand – Mazapan and marzipan candies are hand-molded into shapes.
- Rolled and sliced – Tamarind pulp is rolled and sliced into sticks.
- Layered – Candy liquids like cajeta are poured into containers and layered when semi-hard.
- Pulled and folded – Sugar candies like alfajores get their texture from repeated pulling and folding.
- Enrobing – Chocolate-covered candies have filling manually dipped or enrobed in chocolate.
This handcrafted process means no two candies are exactly alike.
Beyond their delicious flavors, Mexican candies hold cultural and regional significance:
- They are eaten year-round, especially at festivals and holidays.
- Many are made by family-run businesses passed down for generations.
- Specific candies are tied to certain regions.
- They are part of traditions like Day of the Dead and Cinco de Mayo.
- Candies reflect Mexico’s native fruits, spices, nuts and culinary traditions.
- Vibrant packaging often depicts Mexican imagery.
Eating Mexican candy is an authentic way to experience the country’s creativity and culture.
Popularity in the US
As Mexico’s close neighbor, the US has developed a growing appetite for its candies. Reasons they have become popular Stateside include:
- Immigrants sparked desire for tastes of home.
- The candies offer innovative flavors not found in mainstream US brands.
- Americans appreciate the authentic handcrafted production.
- They appeal to the growing Hispanic population.
- The candies align with interest in spicy-sweet foods.
- Food tourism to Mexico has familiarized Americans.
With Mexican restaurants and supermarkets entering mainstream American culture, the candies have followed along.
Where to Find Them
Mexican candies are now easy to find in the US. Places to look include:
- Mexican grocery stores and supermarkets
- Hispanic food sections at major supermarkets
- Online retailers like Amazon.com
- Specialty candy shops
- Piñata stores
- Border town shops
- Mercados at Hispanic festivals and events
Prices range from around $1-$5 for basic candies to higher for imported, gourmet, or artisanal brands. With Mexican candies increasingly mainstream, most Americans live near a store supplying them.
Interesting trivia about Mexican candy includes:
- Tamarind was brought from Africa by the Spanish in the 16th century.
- Mazapan dates to colonial times when nuns made it from ground peanuts or almonds.
- Mexico’s salty-spicy-sour candy flavor profile comes from the Aztecs.
- Up to 5,000 tons of pumpkin seeds are used annually to make candied pepitas.
- Mexico’s first candy factory opened in Mexico City in 1535.
- Traditional candies are still made in family-owned businesses and factories.
- Large Mexican candy corporations include Dulces Vero, Coronado, and Maizena.
- Mexican candy ingredients reflect the country’s agriculture – sugar cane, fruits, nuts, spices, cacao.
- Specialty candies are still made by hand in small batches.
- Certain candies like Alfeñique are made for specific holidays like Day of the Dead.
With a rich history and tradition behind them, Mexican candies offer unique eating experiences.
Like most candies, Mexican versions are high in sugar and generally lack nutritional value. However, some attributes include:
- Fruit flavors – Tamarind, guava, mango give vitamin C, fiber
- Peanuts – Mazapan has protein, healthy fats
- Chili powder – Contains vitamins A, C, carotenoids
- Can be vegan – Many are dairy-free and use no animal products
While moderation is still key, the unique fruits and spices add a bit of nutrition not found in a Snickers bar.
Ways to give Mexican candy a nutritional boost include:
- Enjoy with fresh fruit as a dessert.
- Opt for tamarind or mazapan which use real fruit/nuts.
- Choose dark chocolate-coated bars with less sugar.
- Eat candies made with natural sweeteners like coconut sugar or agave.
- Look for low-calorie options under 100 calories per serving.
While Mexican candy will never be health food, there are ways to make better choices.
Safety and Regulations
Like any food product, quality and safety vary among Mexican candy brands. Here are some tips for choosing safe, reputable candies:
- Check labels for ingredients and nutritional info. Avoid unknown additives.
- Read packaging to ensure it comes from a legitimate confectionery.
- Avoid candies with an overly gritty or chalky texture.
- Opt for well-known brands made in Mexico like Coronado or Dulces Vero.
- Be cautious of homemade or street vendor candies in Mexico that skirt regulations.
- Check expiration dates and don’t eat expired candy.
- Avoid candies that seem melted, crystalized, dried out or contaminated.
Using common sense helps avoid low quality or risky candies. Major manufacturers follow quality controls and food regulations.
Some top Mexican candy brands include:
– Major candy company since 1966
– Makes over 200 products from tamarind candy to chili mango lollipops
– Exports worldwide
– Family company since 1895
– Famous for candied coconuts, chamoy salts, tamarind candies
– Candies handmade in Mexico
Mazapan de la Rosa
– Family mazapan company since 1840
– Specializes in peanut and almond candies
– Has factory in Toluca
– Started in the 1950s in Mexico City
– Makes caballeros, obleas, Duvalin ice cream candy
– Known for old-fashioned candies
Lucas Mango Chili Candy
– Originally from San Francisco
– Famous powdered mango chili candy
– Uses natural flavors and colors
These major brands make Mexican candy easily available worldwide.
Where It’s Made
While found everywhere in Mexico, some top candy-producing regions include:
- Mexico City – The country’s confectionery capital with major factories and family workshops.
- Puebla – Famous for traditional camotes and sweets like cubanitos.
- Guadalajara – Known for fruits used in candies like mango, tamarind and chili powder.
- Monterrey – Specializes in caballeros, obleas, and duvalin candies.
- Toluca – Mazapan capital where famous brands like La Rosa are based.
- Morelia – Makes candied cactus, jamoncillos, and fruits.
Each region in Mexico brings its own flare and local ingredients to candymaking.
Highlights of Mexican candy history include:
- 1500s – Spanish colonists introduce candymaking techniques, equipment and ingredients like sugarcane.
- 1600s – Nunneries emerge as major candy producers, especially mazapan.
- 1800s – Family candy workshops proliferate as the industry expands.
- 1910 – Mexican Revolution disrupts candy production, but resumes after.
- 1950s – Mexico’s first mechanized candy factories are established.
- 1960s-70s – International candy companies like Mars open factories in Mexico.
- 1980s – Mexican candy increasingly exported to meet US demand.
- Today – Old school candymakers thrive despite competition from corporations.
With a 500-year history, candymaking remains a vibrant Mexican tradition combining old and new.
The future looks bright for Mexico’s distinctive candies. Trends shaping the industry include:
- Revival of traditional, artisanal production methods
- New candies experimenting with Mexican flavors like hibiscus, cactus, mezcal
- Sustainability efforts like solar-powered factories and eco-friendly packaging
- Fair trade and organic certified candies
- E-commerce expanding access to small batch and regional candies
- Chef collaborations producing gourmet Mexican candies
- Fusion with other Latin candies like those from Argentina, Colombia, Peru
With these innovations, Mexican candy retains its essence while evolving for the future.
Mexico’s candy tradition dating back centuries remains vibrant today. While locals enjoy an endless variety year-round, international fans relish the chance to experience authentic Mexican flavors and styles. With spicy chili powder, tangy tamarind, aromatic mango, and rich cocoa, Mexican candies offer an explosion of senses. Their festive look and nostalgic taste provide affordable moments of indulgence and joy. More than just sugar rush, they represent Mexico’s creativity, artistry, and status as a world culinary destination. There are discoveries for everyone in this sweet world of Mexican dulces.