What is a Recado?
A recado is a seasoning paste made with a blend of peppers, onions, and spices that has been used for hundreds of years dating back to the Pre-Colombian Mayan Empire. Often described as Mexican curry, these recados are still an important part of Mexican cuisine in the Yucatan peninsula. Traditionally, recados were used as a quick and easy way to season meals, before the convenience of modern grocery stores and markets. While generally a thick paste, recados can vary greatly in texture and color, but they all share the same core spices. One of the most essential spices in the blend is Annatto seed. This seed comes from the achiote tree and lends a mildly sweet and peppery flavor to the mix.
Ancient Use in Mayan Times
The Mayan Empire covered much of south east Mexico from what are now the modern states of Chiapas and Yucatan to the South American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. In preparing the recado, the Mayans gathered a number of different chilis and spices and blended them together into a rich paste with pestle and mortar. A banana leaf was then wrapped around the paste and hung from the ceiling to prevent animals from eating it. During the ensuing weeks, the Mayan cooks would break off pieces from the paste as a way to quickly season the meats that they prepared for meals. These recados were so important that some considered them even more essential than tortillas! When the Spaniards conquered the Mayan civilization, not only were their traditional seasonings incorporated into the Recados, but also those of China, India, and the Mediterranean and other civilizations with which the Spanish made contact.
Use in Modern Yucatan/Chiapas
Cuisine in the Yucatan today is still heavily influenced by its Mayan roots and differs from standard Mexican fare. Recados are widely used in this region and are considered one of the fundamental ingredients in many dishes. Since preparing recados is such an involved process, they are sold ready-made in grocery stores and supermarkets with many variations ranging from the blackened recado de chilmole to the pistachio green recado de Pepita to the bright red recado colorado. Recados can differ greatly in their composition outside of the core spices. From chili peppers to sour oranges, these different recados are used to bring unique flavors to dishes that would otherwise be similar. The popular pork dishes cochinita pibil and poc-chuc are two modern meals that use recado in the Yucatan peninsula today. Check out the recipes section for more information!
2. Hamman, 48.
4. Raghavan, 239.
5. Hamman, 244-245.
6. Hamman, 110.
“Annatto.” The Epicentre Exotic Herbs and Spices. Epicentre, 2003. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. .
Hamman, Cherry. “Recados.” Mayan Cooking: Recipes from the Sun Kingdoms of Mexico. New York: Hippocrene, 1998. Print.
Raghavan, Susheela. “Emerging Spice Blends and Seasonings.” Handbook of Spices, Seasonings, and Flavorings. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2007. 239. Print.
Sybille. “Mayan Food.” Experience the Mayans Journey. Mayantravelguide.com, 2010. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. .