You know those frozen blended mango drinks dripping with bright red spicy-looking stuff from the fruit stands? Or those candies covered in delicious spicy red goo? Or those mango popsicles covered in sticky red syrupy stuff and then coated in Tajín? Or those beautiful layered mangohelada cups from Costco? Well, whether you’ve tried these things, seen these things, or are just hearing about them now and are wondering where they’ve been all your life, they all have one thing in common: chamoy. If you’re asking, what is chamoy or chamoy sauce? Then we’ve got the answers you’ve been looking for.
What is chamoy?
Chamoy is a deep red sauce (or powder) that is sour, salty, spicy, and sweet. Its origins lie in Mexico (though really Asia, but more on that later). And it is quite the sensory experience. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, and it’s salty, all at once. What’s chamoy made out of? At its heart, chamoy is all about salted, dried sour fruit such as unripe plums, green mangoes, tamarind, or apricots. You might see it sold as those dried, salted fruits (aka saladito) or you might see those salted, dried fruits sold “wet” in hot sauce. Or you might see chamoy sold as a gooey red sauce, in which case the liquid from the salted fruits is blended with chili peppers, lime juice, and salt. It’s also available as candy and seasoning powder.
Okay, but what about chamoy being from Asia?
Turns out chamoy came to Mexico from China sometime between the 16th and 19th centuries. This was a time when Chinese immigrants were bringing Asian ingredients such as tamarind, mango, and see mui (a salted, dried apricot also known as crack seed that also inspired umeboshi, Japanese pickled and salted ume plums) to Mexico. See mui is pronounced like “see moy”, so you can see where the word “chamoy” might have come from. It wasn’t until the 1970s that it became an iconic street food in Mexico, when it was translated into candies and sauce by companies like Miguelito and Lucas.
What is chamoy used for?
Whatever the heck ya want to use it for, friendo. Drizzle it on fruit like fresh mango or pineapple, coat apples in the paste, put it on chips, use it to rim a glass for a Michelada, put it on steak. Basically, it’s a sweet and sour sauce plus spice and salt, so it really and truly goes with most anything. Go get yourself a bottle and experiment!