Chamoy is a condiment found all over Mexico, topping fruit, drizzled on nachos, mixed into cocktails, and served as a dipping sauce for meat. It's also made into a popular candy and the spicy-sweet nuances playing well with a tang of lime. Despite chamoy's place in Mexican cuisine, it's actually an Asian invention that got a Latino twist.
- Main Components: Apricot, plum or mango, chilies, salt, and lime juice
- Common Uses: Topping fruit and added as a condiment to meat, chips, and vegetables
- Grocery Store Section: Latino foods, Mexican foods, hot sauce section
- Shelf Life: 90 days after opening
What Is Chamoy?
Chamoy is a saucy condiment made of dried chilies, lime juice, and fruit—usually mango, apricot, or plum. It can be made at home but is often store-bought. Chamoy also can come in powdered and paste form, and sometimes it's made into sweet, salty, spicy, and tart candy. When used for confections, chamoy is frequently used as a powder to coat gummies, made into a dipping powder for a lollipop, worked into hard candies, and as a liquid or sauce to be squeezed out of a packet and put on fresh fruit.
To make chamoy, the first step is to brine or salt cure the fruit, either apricot, plum, or mango. Once all the moisture is leached from the fruit, it's time to separate the solids from the liquid. The leathery fruit gets eaten on its own and sold as saladitos, a sweet and salty snack. The liquid is what is used to make the base of chamoy. This mixture gets chili powder added to it as well as lime to create a sauce that's bottled and used as a condiment.
Surprisingly, chamoy isn't originally a Latino food; it's Asian. Most likely, chamoy came from the Japanese food umeboshi, a type of pickled ume fruit—ume being a type of small, tart plum or apricot. Or, it might have developed from crack seed, also called see mui, which is a Cantonese word describing a salted and dried apricot snack found in China. This Asian influence all comes down to migration. Asian people had been migrating to Mexico since the 1590s, and somewhere along the way chamoy evolved and was developed into the staple spice blend and sauce many Mexican food lovers know today.
Chamoy vs. Tajín
Tajín is another popular Mexican condiment and often gets confused with chamoy. One main difference is Tajín is a brand name where chamoy is a food. Another big difference is that chamoy is a sauce or paste, while the product Tajín is best known for is a lime, salt, and chili powder. And finally, chamoy is fruit-based, while Tajín's spice mix does not contain fruit aside from the dehydrated lime juice.
To confuse matters more, the Tajín brand makes a chamoy sauce consisting of lime, salt, chilies and apricot. But most of the time, when people refer to Tajín they are referring to the spice powder. The name Tajín means smoke, and there's a barbecue aspect to this condiment that sings with fresh fruit and meat, much like chamoy does.
The fruit element is what sets chamoy apart from other chili and lime-based condiments. Without it, other sauces and spice powders don't contain the same deep sweetness chamoy is known for.
There are a lot of chamoy brands on the market and all are fairly similar. Some of the most popular bottles of chamoy sauce include Chilerito Chamoy, Salsas Castillo, and Tajín Chamoy. Chamoy can also be found in a paste form, though it's not as common. Sometimes the paste version of chamoy is called "apple paste" since it's a popular spice to coat apples with. When looking for powdered chamoy, look for the Miguelito brand or Lucas Chamoy, both of which are good for sprinkling on fruit or rimming a bloody Mary.
How to Cook With Chamoy
The most common use for chamoy is to flavor fresh fruits and vegetables. Often it's drizzled over slices of mango, pineapple, jicama, watermelon, and avocado. Rolling an apple in chamoy paste and serving it whole, almost like a candy apple, is also a traditional snack in Mexico. Chamoyada is a dessert that features shaved ice or sorbet with chunks of fruit and chamoy sauce.
Chamoy can be used to bring a sweet spice to savory dishes as well and often it's put on nachos, tacos, roasted vegetables, steak, and chili. The Mexican street food staple tostilocos uses chamoy to spice up a mixture of peanuts, jicama, cucumber, lime, and cueritos, or dried pig skin. Chamoy can also be used like a hot sauce and drizzled onto a meal as desired.
What Does It Taste Like?
On its own, chamoy tastes like an Asian sweet and sour sauce but with more heat and deeper tang. This unique sweet-and-spicy profile works well with light fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and bean-based dishes. It's spicy without having a searing heat, and the sweetness of the fruit helps curve the burn. If eating chamoy in candy form, the sugary aspect becomes more pronounced and often there's a bit more salt to the food as well.
Because chamoy is a type of sauce, it goes well on many dishes from nachos to sandwiches to eggs. It's also a popular topping for fresh fruit. Try the sweet and spicy condiment on one of these dishes.
Where To Buy Chamoy
Chamoy is sold in bottles as a liquid sauce and can sometimes be found in powdered form, similar to a spice mix. Find chamoy and chamoy products in the Mexican food section of most major grocery stores, especially if they are in an area with a large Latino population. Chamoy can also be purchased at Latino markets and online.
Most chamoy sauces and powders are shelf stable and can remain in a cool, dark pantry for around three months after opened. Freshly made chamoy should be kept in the fridge where it stays good for about three weeks.
Nutrition and Benefits
There's nothing particularly healthy or unhealthy about chamoy. It's a low-calorie condiment that has some sugar and a lot of salt content. The biggest problem with eating too much chamoy is the possibility of heartburn due to the chilies.
Chamoy did garner some controversy when certain chamoy-flavored candies were found to contain lead. This was a candy manufacturing issue and the chamoy seasoning was not to blame—lead contamination should not be a worry when purchasing chamoy.