Brazilian cooking heavily relies on a long and varied list of ingredients, many of which are virtually unknown outside of the country. The flavor profiles of Brazilian dishes also involve the use of spices, some of which are local but many are the legacy of its past as a Portuguese colony. Here is a look at some of the most popular Brazilian spices:
Made from the mesocarp of the fruit from oil palm trees, dende oil is the preferred cooking oil in Brazil when it comes to fried dishes. It has a reddish color and a thick consistency. Dende oil is technically not a spice but it does play the role of one because of its floral aroma and nutty flavor, which is similar to that of olive oil.
Garlic is the universal source of savory intensity and Brazilian cooks use it just as much as their peers elsewhere in the world. You will detect garlic’s umami and sulfur flavors in traditional Brazilian dishes like the bean dish feijoada and refogado, the Brazilian equivalent of sofrito.
The bright red of many Brazilian dishes comes in part from the widespread use of dende oil but also from annatto. The red spice has historically been used as a dyeing agent for clothes and as food coloring both in Brazil and elsewhere in the world.
In Brazil, annatto is called urucum and it used to color dishes without affecting the flavor profile the way the liberal use of dende oil might. Annatto does have a flavor but it is an extremely subtle one. It is similar to nutmeg with a slight peppery heat.
While cilantro is best known for the role it plays in food from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, Brazilians are fans of this herb as well. It is especially popular in the parts of Brazil along the Atlantic coast even though it is not native to Brazil.
Even though the herb is not commonly used in African cuisine, it is widely used in Bahia where the cuisine has more of an African influence than anywhere else in Brazil. Its bright herbaceous, lemony notes are popular enhancements for seafood preparations including salted cod dishes like bacalao.
As in other Latin American cuisines, cumin shows up in a range of Brazilian dishes. You will see it among the ingredients in recipes for cabrito ao molho, which is stewed goat kid and the beef stew called barreado. Cumin’s earthy flavors and mild bitterness are essential complements for savory dishes, especially those with lots of other strong flavors.
Many Brazilians like their food spicy, with an emphasis on hot peppers being seen in dishes from the northern parts of the country. They are commonly added to food in the form of condiments like jams and sauces.
Pickled chilies (conserva em pimenta) are also popular options for adding heat at the table. The sauces may be sold as molho apimentado or molho picante.
You will see cinnamon included in some recipes for Brazilian roast chicken (frango assado) but it is more often used in desserts. The sweetness and spicy heat of cinnamon are typically contrasted with a mild ingredient. For example, cinnamon is sprinkled on top of the green maize pudding called curau and the traditional Brazilian rice pudding arroz doce tradicional.