When I left my hometown to go to school, I didn't realize how much of home I would miss, especially the supermarkets. I never realized how difficult it would be to find some of the ingredients my dad always included in his meals and at equivalent prices as the supermarkets at home. Much of the grocery stores at home sell Mexican ingredients specific to traditional cooking, and it was these grocers I took for granted.

Yes, the Trader Joe's around the corner is great, don't get me wrong. You just won't find nopales (cactus), serrano chiles, or tomatillos there. You can only find the common, popular foods, which is okay, but when I can get my hands on some of my favorite Mexican foods, I'm a happy girl.

1. Epazote

fresh epazote!!

watashiwani on Flickr

This herb adds a lemony flavor to foods like chilaquiles or stews. It is also used to makes teas that aid in digestion and flatulence. The young leaves of epazote contain over half your recommended serving of folic acid.

Fun fact: Mayans used to drink epazote tea to get rid of worm infections.

2. Guanabana

Modern Languages at Finger Lakes Community College - Costa Rica 2013

LeafLanguages on Flickr

Today, the guanabana tree can be found in most tropical areas around the world from southern Mexico to southeast Asia. This fruit can be sweet and tart. I'm afraid, however, that my description of this fruit will not serve it justice. This fruit is delicious in place of ice cream in smoothies or by itself.

This creamy fruit also is said to fight cancer cells. Studies have shown that the compounds from the fruit, especially the leaves, eliminated cancer cells in lab studies. There are no human studies to prove this, however. 

It can also be applied to fresh wounds to speed up the healing process. 

3. Huauzontle

Image from WikiCommons

Image from WikiCommons

This nutrient rich plant is in the same family as amaranth and quinoa. Huauzontle can be used to make chile rellenos (sorry to your taste buds if you've never tried this before), which are fried chiles stuffed with cheese, or added to scrambled eggs. Personally, I like huauzontle steamed with salt and pepper. 

Huazontle contains minerals like calcium, iron, and phosphorus and vitamins like vitamin A, C, E and B. Nutrients like these stimulate memory, relieve anxiety, and help the functioning of the brain. 

4. Huitlacoche


o0karen0o on Flickr

There's no pretty way to say this, but huitlacoche is technically the fungus that grows on corn. I will also tell you this Mexican delicacy is terrific in quesadillas and divine in soups. When you taste this in a quesadilla, for example, you don't get the fermented fungus flavor that you would get in aged cheese. Instead, huitlacoche has a light earthy and nutty flavor. The soluble fiber in this food helps keep cholesterol and other fats in the body balanced.

5. Tuna

Callie Austin

No, not the overfished tuna from the ocean, but spelled the same. You may have already heard of cactus pear or prickly pear fruit. This fruit grows on the the brim of the prickly pear cactus pads. Tuna can be eaten alone, turned into jam, added to drinks like lemonade, turned into an agua fresca, or enjoyed in your own creative manner. Another reason to take a bite into this sweet and juicy fruit is because one serving contains about 25 percent of an adult's recommended daily value of vitamin C.

Don't worry if you couldn't pronounce some of the foods mentioned. There's always Google to attempt to help you with that. But Mexican food is more than tacos and beans; there are many other ingredients that even I am still learning about that are added into traditional dishes. I recommend going out to your local Hispanic food market and experimenting with some of these fresh ingredients and creating a wholesome meal.