The 3 Mexican Ingredients Every Cook Needs, According To Aaron Sanchez

For many people, Mexican cuisine is one of the most popular and most delicious in the world. With bright, savory, and spicy flavors and a true focus on fresh meats, vegetables, and grains, it's also one that can be pretty healthy.

The relative ease of a taco or quesadilla makes Mexican cuisine a favorite in many at-home chefs' hearts, but authentic Mexican fare is a lot more than just a flour tortilla and Cotija cheese. There is a plethora of spices, seasonings, and techniques that make Mexican food the super-dynamic cuisine that it is. Some ingredients you may have heard of before and others, maybe not.

Of course, Food Network's chef Aarón Sánchez is a perfect authority on cooking, flavor, and the must-have ingredients when it comes to enjoying Mexican food. To be clear, Sánchez is truly a Latino chef whose restaurants, cookbooks and other ventures often focus on broader Latin cuisine.

The celebrity chef recently did an interview with the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), talking at length about his upbringing, love of food, and successful culinary career. At one point, the interviewer asks, "What are three Mexican ingredients you would recommend to someone who wants to master the cuisine to always have in their pantry?" (via ICE). Chef Sánchez advises anyone trying to master the art of Mexican cuisine to have chipotle, huitlacoche, and Mexican oregano in their pantries at all times.

Where chipotle comes from and why it's popular in Mexican cooking

MasterClass offers a comprehensive guide to the chipotle pepper, whose name is a combination of the Aztec words chilli, meaning hot pepper, and poctli, meaning smoke. At their essence, chipotle peppers are dried, smoked red jalapeño peppers. If you've seen any kind of orange-colored drizzle or dressing, it's likely chipotle powder or something similar, which is likely red in color; most chipotle powder, canned chipotles, or chipotles in adobo are derived from ripe, red jalapeños.

Chipotle is a signature spice and seasoning in Mexican cuisine, which is why Chef Sánchez recommends at-home chefs have it at all times. It is very versatile, often used as a sauce or base for slow-cooked meat. Taste of Home has a variety of popular methods that utilize the spiciness and flavor of chipotle peppers in adobo, including beef carnitas, smoked salmon quesadillas, and chipotle pork sliders. Adding chipotle to your pantry will have your Mexican dishes tasting light years better in no time.

Two other ingredients Chef Aarón Sánchez swears by for Mexican cooking

Chef Sánchez also suggests having huitlacoche and Mexican oregano in your kitchen for cooking authentic Mexican dishes. Huitlacoche is technically a plant disease that grows on corn — also known as "corn smut." Not the most appetizing description, but it's actually quite a delicacy and often used in sauces and soups, known for its midnight color and soft, spreadable texture (via Food Republic). MasterClass suggests three great-tasting ways to use huitlacoche: tacos, quesadillas, and tamales.

Last, there is Mexican oregano. (Multiple types of oregano? Who would've thought?) Traditional oregano, often used in Mediterranean cooking, is part of the mint family, whereas Mexican oregano is part of the verbena family (via Bon Appétit). Its "bright and citrusy" notes make it a sensible complement and seasoning to the flavors often found in Mexican cuisine.

If you're truly committed to mastering the craft of Mexican cuisine and are graduating from shredded cheese on tortillas (we've all gotta start somewhere), take Chef Sánchez' advice and incorporate these three ingredients into your recipes. Having them on-hand at all times will make for epic Mexican dishes whenever inspiration strikes.