For Tongue-Tingling Flavors, Reach for These Mexican Candies
Expert Esteban Castillo will help you select the best spicy, sweet, and salty candies to expand your horizon.
Esteban Castillo knows Mexican candy. There are the lollipops covered in chili powder he dearly loves, salty canisters full of citric acid that burn both the tongue and the heart, tamarind pulp candies reminiscent of fruit leather but with amplified flavors. Castillo, who has written a cookbook and authors his celebrated Mexican food blog, Chicano Eats, recognizes that the intense flavors he grew up craving in candies have actually shaped the way he looks and thinks about food.
“It’s definitely formed my palate in the sense that I gravitate towards more spicy food. Also because a lot of these candies are sour, I love sour things,” he explained, laughing, over a recent video call. “Whenever I go out for drinks, I have to ask for extra lime juice. If my drink is a little too sweet, I just can’t.”
That being said, Mexican candies can’t be pinned down to a single note or flavor profile. “There’s so many different layers to Mexican candy. It’s hard to describe them with just a single word,” Castillo said. “You can expect to taste a lot of spice, different tropical fruits, and just have a lot of things going on with your candy.”
Just like American candies, not all of the options are satisfactory (I’m looking at you, Whoppers). “Whenever we went to birthday parties, there was always a piñata so we could always expect to leave with a goodie bag. And one of those candies that were in there that I always thought were so disgusting were these little 7-up packets [of] like, citric acid and salt,” Castillo reminisced, cracking up. “It was not good -- those were a choice.”
To make sure you don’t make any mistakes purchasing Mexican candy -- like immediately eroding your tastebuds with citric acid -- here are all of Castillo’s favorites and recommendations you should try in one handy list:
Rebanaditas are watermelon-flavored lollipops covered in chili powder. Though the center is sweet and tastes like the artificial watermelon flavor we know and love in candies, to get to it, you’ll have to lick through an acidic and mildly spicy layer of chili powder. “As a kid, I hated having to lick through the chili powder coating so we would dunk them in water for 10 minutes until that dissolved,” Castillo said with a laugh. “It’s just so raspy!”
Buy Rebanaditas here.
If you’re intrigued by Rebanaditas but not exactly a fan of watermelon-flavored candies, then opt for Vero Mango instead. It still has that “raspy” chili coating you’ll have to lick through, but in the center is a fruity and sweet mango-flavored hard candy.
Buy Vero Mango here.
If you don’t want to deal with a chili coating whatsoever (which I should say in advance is a mistake because in my humble opinion, the chili powder is the best part), Castillo suggests reaching for a Pollito Rostizado instead, a mango-flavored lollipop that’s formed in the shape of a rotisserie chicken.
Buy Pollito Rostizado here.
Pulparindo is a pounded tamarind pulp candy that arrives in packaged sheets. It comes in four flavors to choose from -- original tamarind, extra hot, watermelon, and mango -- and has a sticky and chewy texture. “I noticed that a lot of the candies that I love and have enjoyed as a kid have revolved around tamarind,” Castillo mentioned. “It plays such a huge part in our cuisine and in the culture.”
Buy Pulparindo here.
Pelon Pelo Rico
Similarly to Pulparindo, Pelon Pelo Rico is also a tamarind pulp candy, though the consistency is a bit runnier. “It’s push pop that’s filled with a tamarind pulp and you push it up and it’s almost like hair is coming out,” Castillo explained, likening the product to those Play-Doh hair salon sets. “It’s interactive.”
Buy Pelon Pelo Rico here.
According to Castillo, Duvalin is a classic -- a silky and creamy candy that's consistency is similar to “store-bought frosting.” It comes in combination flavors like vanilla and strawberry, vanilla and hazelnut, or a combination of three flavors like a neapolitan. “This one’s really cool -- I actually used it as inspiration in my cookbook for one of the jellos,” Castillo mentioned.
Buy Duvalin here.
Lucas Gusano is another tamarind candy, but even more liquefied than Pelon Pelo Rico. It’s got heat and squeezes out of a small plastic bottle with ridges shaped like an accordion. “They call it gusano because of the way it expands and contracts, sort of like a worm,” Castillo explained. “The gusano is [a candy] that I ended up using in the book as an inspiration and a reference. I have a recipe in there for these tamarind wings and the sauce is inspired by the candy because when you taste the candy, you get the sour and spicy notes from the tamarind and the chili, but there’s also a little bit of smokiness that comes. I made the sauce out of tamarind and ancho powder to sort of mimic that, and it was kind of spot on.”
Buy Lucas Gusano here.
Aldama or Sevillana Obleas
Obleas are crispy thin wafer candies that sandwich a filling of cajeta. “Cajeta is similar to dulce de leche but it’s made from goat’s milk,” Castillo said, which gives it a nuttier and richer taste. In terms of brands, Castillo did not recommend one over the other -- so just try both and see which one wins out.
Pica Gomas and Pica Fresa
“[Pica Gomas and Pica Fresa] are these little white gummies and they’re covered in a tamarind pulp,” Castillo said, which come in different flavors: mango, strawberry, and original tamarind. These round spheres are a bit smaller than a gumball, but pack the sticky texture and tart flavor of tamarind in each bite-sized piece.