The ingredients used in traditional Mexican cooking that impart that authentic flavor include chiles, beans, certain fats, corn and tomatoes. Meats, cheeses and other ingredients such as onions and garlic were added later.
Mexican cooking is built on a foundation of native Mexican flavors and influenced by the flavors and techniques of India, Europe and even China. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, meat was relatively scarce, so corn and beans were the main nutritional staple at that time. Mexican cooks used chiles and spices to add flavor. Those who lived near the coast also used a lot of seafood, and with the Spaniards came garlic, onions, wheat, cheese, chicken and more. These ingredients soon became part of the indigenous recipes.
Traditional Mexican cooking still relies on the old favorites. Chiles are a staple in these dishes and range from the flavorful ancho to the spicy jalapeno and the fiery-hot serrano. The types of dishes that include chiles are widely varied, including salsas, soups, sauces, mole and more. Chiles may be fresh, dried, smoked or powdered, in which case they are considered a spice.
Mexican recipes also sometimes contain some unexpected ingredients, such as cactus, cocoa and peanuts. While Mexican foods often contain cheese, it is a more modern addition and not a significant part of traditional Mexican cuisine.