Colombian Spices List

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Spices rule in Colombian cuisine.
Image Credit: Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/GettyImages

Popular Colombian food and the Colombian spices it contains can't be relegated to a singular list. Because the country of Colombia borders three distinct areas, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Andes Mountain range, the foods from each area are local, seasonal and flavored with spices and herbs native to that region. Transportation from one region to another is difficult, resulting in different flavors for each. The varied geographical landscape and climate determine the food and fruit of each area and inspire the techniques produced by local home kitchens, found in the popular street food and served in fine dining establishments.

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Colombian Spices From the Andes

Unlike the hot and spicy flavors dominated by red peppers and found in most of Latin America, the Colombian spices of the Andean Mountain region are aromatic and exotic.

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The guascas herb (Galinsoga parviflora), grown in the Andes, dominates the chicken and potato soup commonly known as ajiaco. Its flavors are savory and slightly minty. The region's highly prized Caldo de costilla, a soup popular for midnight hunger pains, features beef and a well-seasoned broth bursting with the flavors of cilantro and whole cumin seeds. And trigulsar, a mix blended from cumin, saffron, garlic powder and turmeric and similar to Sazon Goya, gives a subtle flavor to stews.

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Caribbean Inspired Colombian Spices

Fish and coconuts dominate the culinary dishes found in the Caribbean region of Colombia, and cilantro, parsley and chives are added herbs and spices used to enhance the subtle flavors of the fish. Mote de queso, a soup popular on the Caribbean Coast, blends onions, garlic, lime juice, cheese and yams to form a distinctive taste. Purslane, an edible wild food with antibacterial properties, is also used to a large degree in Colombian Caribbean dishes.

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Rondon is a Caribbean soup made from whatever is left over in the kitchen. With a base of coconut milk, the spices used are usually garlic, minced ginger and curry powder. A small hot pepper is added, depending on the region. This is most likely one of the spiciest of the Colombian Caribbean dishes.

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Fish Dominate Colombia’s Pacific Gastronomy

Colombians shy away from highly seasoned foods and prefer more delicate tastes, with the exception being the Pacific region. Fish and seafood are popular dishes found in Colombia's Pacific region, one of the least populated regions of the country. There is a strong emphasis on the region's African heritage and African influences, adding more spice to the fish and shellfish pulled from the Pacific Ocean. Scallions, white onion, chili pepper, green pepper, chopped chillangua (coriander), achiote oil (bija), salt, pepper and cumin are blended to add zest to the mildest of fish. Cinnamon, sweet cloves and nutmeg are added to fruit drinks.

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Originally settled by slaves working the mines in the 17th and 18th centuries, the area features richly spiced seafood mixed with the harvests of the rainforests. Curries and chili pepper sauce dominate, and a heavy dose of turmeric that gives a dish its yellow hue adds to the heat.

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