My first introduction to chamoy was through FOMEX (1). It was a sweltering Australian summers day and I was attending a taquiza (2) for FOMEX members and their family and friends. I joined FOMEX after visiting Mexico because I wanted to expose myself to the cooking of a culture as it appears in its home kitchens. I also wanted to test my cooking on the palates of the people who would best be able to judge its flavour (3). My biggest hit of the day was my agua de jamaica. Little did I know that this was a flavour of home that many missed and now, every time I show up, it is expected I bring the jamaica (usually about 20 litres – but that is another story. Back to the chamoy)
- see Post FOMEX : The Friends of Mexico. They also introduced me to tajin.
- a “taco party”
- I also wanted to share some of my fresh grown herbs, papaloquelite in particular.
The company was great and food was excellent (aiii mi panza) and after a while the twin poles came out. You know, the dodgy paleta (1) that you had to break in half to share with your mongrel sibling and it never broke in half properly and someone would always get the bigger half and someone would get robbed? Anyway…… OK so the twin poles came out , were divided and shared and then I noticed people were walking around with a small plastic cup with a thick dark liquid in it that they would dip the icypole in and then slup it off. Curiosity aroused.
I quickly discovered the liquid to be chamoy. A tangy, sour, sweet, fruity flavour that in many ways reflected the tang of the tajin that I’d just been introduced to and in some ways to the tart sourness preferred by some in their jamaica (1). This liquid was used in much the same way as tajin (2) to add a chile spiked tartness to fruit, paletas, cerveza, anything you want to really.
- Cesar I’m talking to you here (I prefer mine sweeter)
- a little more on tajin later in the Post
So what is chamoy? Where did it come from? What is its history? Could I make it if I wanted to? Or is it like vegemite or KFC where no matter how hard you try you could never emulate the product? I searched all of my Mexican cook books (I quite literally have hundreds) and could only find three references and they were all about using chamoy in drinks. Mangonadas (1) and micheladas (more on these later).
- or chamangos
A snippet from my collection
The book that provided the most info was one I won in a cooking competition.
The book however confused the issue a little for me as it described chamoy as both being a liquid or a powder (of sorts) made by finely chopping together fresh lime zest and chile powder. It appears the name can be used interchangeably.
The history of the origin of chamoy seems to have two main branches. The first is Chinese. One researcher (1) had an epiphany about the consumption of a preserved salted apricot eaten by Chinese plantation workers in Hawaii in the 19th Century and that the word chamoy was derived from the Cantonese word 西梅, see mui which is pronounced see-moy (2). Laudan is unable to say if see mui came to Mexico from Hawaii (so this link is tenuous)(3), but says that Asians have been migrating to the country since the 1560s in Spanish ships that traded Chinese silk and spices for silver. Here she is referring to the Manilla galleons from the Philippines.
- Rachel Laudan
- In various articles Rachel notes that it may have derived from “li hing mui” (literal translation is “traveling plum”). In most parts of China li hing mui is called huamei. It was made popular in Hawaii by Yee Sheong, who in early 1900 had begun importing li hing mui and various other preserved fruits i.e. crack seed snacks from China to Hawaii.
- Rachel also mentions “Mexican chamoy took a different path from Hawaiian see mui. The latter was reinvented as a powder and used to flavor gummi bears (and much else). The former from the 1970s was reinvented as a sweet-sour-piquant red liquid to squirt on potato chips or anything else you fancied.”
The next branch is Japanese. Teikichi Iwadare (1) was born in Japan in 1902 and emigrated to Mexico in 1923. When Japan entered World War II, the American government pressured the Mexican authorities to make a census of all Japanese immigrants and flagged those who could potentially collaborate with Japan. Teikichi was signalled as a possible collaborator, his goods were confiscated and he and his family were sent to a special “camp” in Mexico City. After the war he decided to stay. In 1950 he opened a company, Proteína Soya, and introduced soy products into the Mexican market. He also began to produce a Japanese staple food: Ume boshi (pickled prunes) made with apricots, which he called Chamoy. This particular researcher (2) thinks the word chamoy probably derived from the Chinese word suan mei –sour plum or the Vietnamese xí muôi –preserved prune.
- I have also seen his name as Tadakichi Iwadare
These are not the only linguistic sources of the word chamoy. One is from the Philippines. The Philippine Islands played a pivotal role in the exchange between México and the world, in particular Asia. Several words related to the salted plum snacks exist in the Philippines and they all seem to begin in China. Words used to describe these snacks are used interchangeably but they do refer to different things. Here I refer to tsampoy, champoy and kiamoy. Tsampoy and kiamoy can be used to refer to the same product whilst champoy and kiamoy are often used to describe the same product but they are different.
The image below is a “Chinese” snack from the Philippines called tsampoy or kiamoy. It is a dried, red and salty plum. It can vary in colour from orange to red to brown.
The image below (also considered a Chinese-Filipino treat) is of champoy. Champoy is black, sweet and moister than kiamoy (although not all kiamoy is very dry – some can be “wet”)
These products appeared in México as saladitos (1)
- salty snacks
Not to be confused with…..
Wikipedia has this to say of saladitos (1)……..
Saladitos are plums or apricots, which are dried, salted and which can also be sweetened with sugar and anise or coated in chili and lime. A common misconception is that saladitos and chamoy are the same thing; saladitos are the dried salted fruit, whereas chamoy is made from the leftover brine.
- which I don’t think is entirely correct. See reference to umezu below.
It did have some good advice though…..
On some occasions, to spice up drinks, a few saladitos are put at the bottom of drinks like Sprite, ginger ale or beer. Once the saladito is placed in the soda, bubbles will begin to rise immediately. In Taiwan, a popular plum drink is made by soaking several saladitos in a pitcher of water until the plum rehydrates and flavors the water.
Regardless of the origin of the name it always circles back to the ume fruit.
Umeboshi (Japanese: 梅干, literally ‘dried ume’) are brined ume fruits from Japan. The word umeboshi is often translated into English as ‘salted Japanese plums’ or ‘preserved plums’ but the Ume (Prunus mume) is a species of fruit more closely related to the apricot.
Umeboshi are a popular kind of Japanese tsukemono (‘pickled thing’) and are extremely sour (due to high citric acid – approximately 3 x that of lemons) and salty although sweet umeboshi made with honey also exist.
Umeboshi are traditionally made by harvesting ume fruit when they ripen and packing them in barrels with 20% salt per weight of fruit. The salt extracts juice, which the ume then soak in for about two weeks. This salty, sour liquid is sold as umezu (梅酢) which is often translated as ‘ume vinegar’.
Making your own chamoy.
CHAMOY CASERO (Home-made Chamoy) (adapted from a Kwillimon recipe)
- 1 cup dried apricots
- 1 cup prunes (or try umeboshi) – if using umeboshi remember to lower the amount of salt you add
- 1 cup dried flor de jamaica
- 3 cups Water
- 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 large chile mulato (or ancho) stems and seeds removed
- 6 chile de arbol (stems removed)
- 1 orange
- 3 lemons
- Place the flor de jamaica in a small sauce pan and cover with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature. Once it has cooled strain well and reserve the jamaica water. Transfer the remaining flowers to a bowl and cover with cool water. wash well to remove any remaining sand or grit.
- In a separate pan place the chiles, prunes and apricots. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until apricots are very soft
- Place this mixture into a blender and add a little of the cooking water. Add the drained flor de jamaica and blend until smooth(ish)
- Strain mixture well . Push the mix through the strainer with a spatula. try to get as much of the pulp as you can.
- Place this pulp into a pan with the citrus juices, 1/3 cup of the jamaica water and the sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, immediately lower the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes
- Adjust salt and sugar to your liking
Here is a slightly less complicated version which uses apricot jam
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 dried ancho chiles
- 1 cup apricot jam
- 1/2 cup lime (4-5 large limes)
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- Wipe the anchos to remove any dust. Pull off the stem and shake out the seeds. Soak chiles in hot water until soft – 15 minutes
- Place the whole chiles in the blender along with the water, apricot jam, lime juice, sugar, and salt.
- Blend on high speed until extremely smooth.
- Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
In México you will find chamoy used to spike bags of chicharron that you can buy from vendors in the mercados and on the streets (1). You can also find chicharrones de harina. These are snacks made from flour that puff up like pork rinds (2) when fried and offer a non-meat version of pork rinds.
- you will also see it used on tostilocos or dorilocos but these psychedelic street snacks deserve a Post of their own.
- called pork crackle where I come from
Now that you have made yourself thirsty by snarfing down some chile spiked salty snacks you’ll need something to drink.
This is México. Think again.
Cerveza Preparadas – The Michelada
Beer is the most consumed alcohol in México (1) even more than tequila (2), interestingly enough more tequila is exported to the USA than is consumed within Mexico’s borders (3).
- more than 55 litres per year (I have to admit that this really doesn’t sound like too much beer at all). https://www.statista.com/statistics/1051264/beer-per-capita-consumption-mexico (in Australia the figure is just over 64 litres of beer per year – well it was in 2018 – I suspect more was drunk in 2020) https://www.statista.com/statistics/920716/australia-per-capita-consumption-of-beer-by-strength/#:~:text=In%20the%202018%20financial%20year,were%20also%20consumed%20per%20capita.
- a little under 1 litre per person per year (again this does not sound like a lot to me – it does of course not take into consideration any other licor de agave -mezcal/raicilla/bacanora etal)
- more than 254 million litres (of tequila only) was imported into the USA in 2020. https://www.tequila.net/tequila-production-and-export-statistics.html
Beer is a popular drink in México but much to the lament of Mexicano’s everywhere it lacked one vital ingredient. Chile. So what’s a Mexican to do? Well add chile of course. To do this they invented the michelada (or chelada).
The word “michelada” is a Spanish portmanteau (1) that combines “chela” (slang term for beer) with “ada” for “helada,” meaning cold, and “mi” for mine — my cold beer (although this may be debateable).
- A portmanteau word is a blend of words in which parts of multiple words are combined into a new word, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel.
What’s The Difference Between A Michelada & Chelada?
A Michelada is essentially a cocktail made with beer and tomato juice, spices and lime in a salt rimmed glass …….. whereas, a chelada is much more simple. It has lime and salt. (although there are those who would argue the semantics of this). Both fall into a general category called “cerveza preparada,” or prepared beer.
There are several ingredients considered essential for the construction of a michelada. The first is clamato. This is a blend of clam and tomato juice. If the thought of clam juice makes you squeamish then just use tomato or V8 juice. Maggi and Worcestershire sauce add various levels of umami (1).
- a “savoury” flavour
The thought of clam juice turn you off? Not a problem. We have the perfect substitute. Try Camaronazo. Instead of clam it is flavoured with prawns (shrimp).
Add a dash of hot sauce. These are the ones in my pantry.
Other important ingredients include two quintessentially Mexican flavours, chamoy and taijin. Chamoy adds a sweet/sour flavour and tajin (1) backs this up with its own sweet/salty/sour/chile tang
- tajin is a powdered blend of salt, chile and dried lime juice often used to add zing to fresh fruits and (in this case) beer
Straight from the manufacturers website…..
“WHY DOES THE PACKAGE SAY “THIS IS NOT CANDY”? TAJÍN® is so good that kids have been known to eat it straight from the bottle, as if it were candy. We want to make sure the product is consumed as intended: to season fruits, veggies, and your favorite foods.” (1)
- there is a general belief that this product may cause gastritis or stomach ulceration if consumed in excess (this is also said of Takis and other spicy snacks)
Dammit. Now I need more beer.
Michelada (con chamoy por supuesto)
- Mexican lager beer (Modelo/Corona/Tecate/Pacifica/Sol)
- Clamato (or tomato juice)
- 3-4 splashes hot sauce, more or less to taste.
- 2 splashes of Worcestershire sauce (5ml or so)
- 2 splashes of Maggi sauce (or soy sauce)
- splash of chamoy
- Juice of one lime
- Tajín seasoning (or salt) for the rim
- Take about a tablespoon of Tajín (or salt) and sprinkle it on a small plate. Rub a slice of lime around the rim of the glass and then press the rim in the Tajín to salt the rim. You could also use chamoy to moisten the glass rim and stick the tajin on.
- Add 60ml Clamato to the glass.
- Add the hot sauce, the lime juice, the Worcestershire sauce, the chamoy and the soy sauce.
- If you used Tajín to salt the rim, pour any excess from the plate into the glass.
- Top the glass with icy cold beer. You want a light refreshing beer
- Garnish with a slice of lime and enjoy!
We can also make a beer free drink (although why you would is beyond me) with chamoy and a popularly consumed chamoy laced drink is the mangonada.
The Mangoneada from El Cerrito restaurant (this one can be dosed with Tequila)
Makes 4 drinks
- 2 fresh mangoes (roughly chopped)
- 500g frozen mango chunks **See NOTES
- 1 cup lime sorbet **See NOTES
- 1/2 fresh lime (cut into small pieces) **See NOTES
- 250g ice **See NOTES
- blend together the fresh and frozen mango and the sorbet and ice until slushy and well combined
- squirt some chamoy (about 2 tablespoons) into the bottom of a glass and top with the mango mix. Only 1/2 fill the glass.
- add another squirt of chamoy and then top up the glass with the mango mix until full
- garnish with a sprinkle of taijin
- consider using different frozen fruits. Try pineapple chunks, guava or strawberries. Make sure the fruit is sweet; chamoy will add tartness to the drink.
- use any kind of sorbet with a citric or acidic kick, lemon, lime, strawberry; you could even just use cubes of frozen lemonade (this goes for the ice too)
- If you are lucky enough to live in Australia then you could use the native finger lime instead of a normal lime (limón). These small citrus fruits are about the size of my little finger and their innards are composed of caviar like pearls. They have an excellent citric flavour and an interesting texture (if not blended smooth)
- spike this drink with a shot of your favourite tequila
Finger limes (larger than actual size)
Centenario tequila even make a mango/chamoy flavoured tequila liqueur
I will revisit chamoy again when I delve into the monstrosity that is the tostiloco.
- Arakelyan, Hayk. (2020). Japanese Sour Salted Plums – Umeboshi and Health..
- Nihei, Mariko. : Mexican Snacks Originated in Japan : Official Conference Proceedings : Conference: ACAS2019 : The Asian Conference on Asian Studies 2019 “: Tokai University
- Iwadare, Miguel : (2017) The Japanese Connection: A Japanese Immigrant and the Origin of Chamoy : The Intangible Heritage of Migration: Challenges and Possibilities : ICOMOS Mexicano, A.C. (International Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage)