Chamoy may seem a bit perplexing to those whose concept of flavor is neatly compartmentalized. If you think in terms of dishes that are either sweet or salty or spicy or tangy, chamoy may leave you confused—because it’s all of those things. And when you add the truth that chamoy is a favorite dessert topping and liberally smeared on fruit, the confusion compounds. But if you love the thought of savory elements in desserts and a salty-spicy topping for fresh fruit—if you love crossing boundaries and mixing things up—you’ll love chamoy.
Mango ice (nieve de mango) with chamoy, shaved ice snow cones (raspados) with fruit syrup and chamoy, mango slushies swirled with chamoy and served with tamarind straws (mangoneadas), apples (or watermelon or cucumbers or …) slathered with chamoy and dipped in Tajín—those are just a few of the typical places you’ll find chamoy in Mexico.
Chamoy can be traced back to Japanese immigration to Mexico, when the original was most likely made from the salted “plums” (really a type of apricot) called umeboshi. Flavors in Mexico tip boldly toward spicy and sweet, which, when combined with the saltiness of the umeboshi, evolved into chamoy, the fruity-spicy-salty-tangy-syrupy sauce that flows red from the bottle everywhere. Unfortunately, a lot of the commercial brands are filled with ingredients you won’t recognize as natural food or be able to pronounce. This homemade version is easy and delicious and gets its beautiful red color (and a good amount of tang) from the hibiscus-relative jamaica that’s typically steeped for beverages and available in every Mexican grocery.
Tajín, the tangy-spicy-salty powder that’s sprinkled on jicama and fruit (and used to rim spicy margarita glasses) is widely available these days—many grocery stores, all Mexican groceries, on line. If you can’t lay your hands on it, just add a bit more of the chiles, lime and salt.
- 6ounces (1 lightly packed cup) dried apricots
- 1/2ounce (1/2 cup) dried jamaica flowers
- 2guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into smaller pieces
- 2to 4 arbol chiles (depending on how spicy you want it), stemmed
- ½cup sugar
- 3tablespoons Tajín (sold in many supermarkets)
- 6tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1teaspoon salt
In a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan, combine the apricots, jamaica, and guajillo and arbol chiles with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a full boil, remove from the heat, cover and let stand for about 30 minutes, until the water is a deep crimson color and the apricots are completely soft. Pour the whole mixture into a blender. Add the sugar and Tajin, lime and salt and blend until completely smooth. Pour into a storage container. Covered and refrigerated, this will last at least a month.