Mexican Candy: A cultural experience

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When people think of candy, images of rich chocolate, creamy caramel, and mountains of sugar quickly come to mind. Chances are, when you think candy, you think sugar high.

When Mexicans think candy, sugar is the last thing on their mind.

Mexicans love their candy. Proof of this are the large warehouse type candy stores throughout the city and the traditional candy filled pinatas. But Mexican candy is different. Mexican candy is salty.

Yes, you read that correctly. Mexican candy is salt based instead of sugar based. There are, of course, some stereotypical chocolate bars and such. And there are sugar based candies that everyone loves. But Mexicans, by and large, prefer their salty and spicy candy to anything else.

Because I know this all just sounds odd (What does salt based candy even look like?!) we decided to take you on a visual tour of a Mexican candy store. Let me be very clear: Mexican candy rocks! It is delicious and so addictive that my kid can’t stop eating it. Once you get past the fact that it does not look like the “candy” you probably grew up with you too will want to buy multiple packs to take home.

Let us start with the salty, sometimes spicy candy:

Pulparindo is one of those pieces of candy that transports me to my childhood. I remember buying these yummy tamarind candy sticks at the school candy store and, whenever I see them, I feel eight again. If you are a fan of tamarind you will LOVE this candy.

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Vero Elotes are a chili covered, sweet lollipop. You have to get through the hot and spicy before you can enjoy the sweet. These were too hot for me as a child and I rarely made it to the middle section. But, around ten or so, I found a trick. I would get myself a glass of water and dunk the lollipop in the water, then lick it, then dunk again. This would continue until I made it to the sweet yummy middle part. It was a lot of work but I remember thinking it was totally worth it. For the record, I was a wimp. I don’t remember any of my little childhood friends needing a glass of water to eat this.

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This container is essentially full of chili and tamarind balls. You take one and enjoy. No fuzz, no fancy wrapper, just plain yummy taste. At the stores you can buy the whole container or purchase individual pieces.

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Morellanas are, you guessed it, tamarind, chili and salt based fruit roll up-type candy. You can roll them up or you can just open it up and start biting. They are a childhood staple as well.

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These little sticks are made out of tamarind. Yes, we love our tamarind candy. While children take individual sticks to eat, adults have found that their love for this childhood favorite does not need to end with elementary school. You can find these tamarind sticks in your ice cream, in your clamato drink, or at the nightclub in an adult beverage. Because, let’s be honest, you’re never too old for a tamarind stick.

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Forritos are a newer version of an old classic. You have the sweet taste of apple and Mexican obsession with sprinkling chili powder onto anything we can. Voila! Forritos for every child.

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Saladitos. Every child in Mexico grows up eating saladitos. Saladitos are dried up prunes or apricots, covered in salt (totally covered), and then eaten by itself, or wedged between an orange half, or with lime juice, or in an adult drink, or… well, you can eat them any way possible. As a child I must have consumed an entire warehouse of these. So did all my friends.

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Hola Saladitos are probably the most recognizable packaging brand for saladitos. They come in many, many flavors and juices (yes, juices). For $1-2 USD you can buy a pack with several saladitos, in a particular flavor, and enjoy. If it is your first time buying this amazing product I would recommend buying several different flavors and doing your own taste comparison.

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More Hola Saladitos. These are lemon flavored. No need to say more.

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Lucas. This is my daughters favorite candy in the world. She could eat this whole package, all ten of the Lucas, in one day (if I let her, which I don’t). You typically open up the Lucas and just pour it into your mouth. It’s grainy, like sugar, but salty and chili based. You can sprinkle it on top of fruit, oranges especially, or if you can’t wait to have the flavor on your taste buds, you can just sprinkle it on your tongue. That would be Mackenzie’s recommendation.

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Saladitos and saladito-type candy is so popular you can find them pretty much everywhere and in every flavor and combination possible. These are huge containers of flavored saladitos at the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana, Mexico. These are homemade of course.

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Tajin. Tajin is not actually a candy, but it is used as such so much I figured I should include it. Tajin is a chili powder that people typically sprinkle on fruits and fresh veggies. It’s delicious on oranges, watermelon, cucumbers, fresh carrots, alfalfa and jicama. My daughter takes these small serving sized containers to school to use… because you never know when you might want to add some tajin to your chips. I know people who add it to their chocolate bars.

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The Traditional candy:

Jamonsillo. This very traditional and very delicious candy is made from dulce de leche, pumpkin seeds and pilonsillo. You have to buy some the next time you see it. In fact, I might go buy some after I finish typing here. Jamonsillo is MY favorite traditional Mexican candy.

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Cocadas. These candies are made with coconut shreds, sugar, and egg yolks. Delicious. Try them, you’ll buy an extra box. You can usually buy individual pieces too.

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Popocitas de Alfenique. These are almond, peanut and cooked sugar cookies. Very traditional and very tasty. They’re also huge.

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Camotes and Biznagas. The Camotes, on the left, are made out of camote (sweet potato), sugar, lemon or orange essence, and water. These ingredients are cooked until the mixture turns into a paste/ puree. You then place the camote paste onto wax paper and roll it up. Let it cool until it hardens and its ready to eat. Alternatively, my grandmother used to make her own by cooking camote, pilonsillo, and a squeeze of orange juice into the pan with water. She would let the mixture boil and then serve it pipping hot. The Byznagas, the white candy on the right, is a cactus! It is made from the byznaga plant, sugar and water. Sounds weird, I know, but try it. It also has a lot of medicinal properties, or so I am told.

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Our Mexican version of sugar candy:

Mazapan. This is MY favorite candy of all time! I could eat a million of these, except that it’s made with plenty of sugar. I once gave a friend a piece and she described the experience as “eating peanut powder with lots of sugar”. She clearly has no clue what great candy tastes like because, to me, this is heaven in candy form. You can buy one small piece, but that’s just crazy. Buy a box and enjoy. And send me some. Please.

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Marshmallow candy. This is, as you can see from the picture, an art form. You take nice big pieces of marshmallows and then decorate them. These are often given out in goodie bags at parties or as small gifts on special events (think: baptism, communions, birthday parties, etc). You can, of course, just buy one and eat it as you walk around. That’s what we do. It’s sugar, with some colored sugar on top, and some sugar frosting too.

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Duvalin. Duvalins come in a very small, delicious package. It’s like a couple of bites of cake frosting and comes in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors. This is another of Mackenzie’s favorites and a piece of candy I remember well as a child.

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Paleta Payaso is essentially chocolate covered marshmallow. It tastes just like chocolate covered marshmallow. My American friends love it when I bring them some of these from our travels.

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The Other candy:

Going into a Mexican candy store is like asking for money to jump out of my wallet. My daughter loves it, nostalgia hits me, and we come out with more than enough packages to hold a huge birthday party and feed an army. It is a cultural adventure to go into one and try different pieces. Go ahead, take a trip to one of Mexico’s candy shops and walk through the hallways and corridors and eat something different.

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And, because I always like to take my own advise, I took Mackenzie and our friends from Publikate Tijuana to the candy store for a little field trip.

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Their stash

As children, Karla (the force behind Publikate Tijuana) and I spent many hours, days, and years eating the same candy that our girls are now enjoying together. It’s magical to see our daughters play just like we once did and fun to see them eating the same candy too!

Want to see their fun Mexican candy adventure? They wanted to make a video that you can enjoy on YouTube here.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Mexican Candy: A cultural experience

  1. Thanks for this timely post! I´m buying candy for a piñata today, and wasn´t looking forward to it–now I am! (Because I´ll be walking out with a box of chocolate-covered mazapan, of course!)

    And I´ve never heard of/tried Saladitos–I´ll be keeping my eyes open!

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