Set amid a Latin American and Caribbean region where hot peppers dominate, Colombian cuisine distinguishes itself by a preference for indigenous aromatic spices rather than overwhelming heat. You may have to browse the shelves of Latin American supermarkets to source authentic spices, but will be rewarded with warm-colored stews heavy in exotic flavors.
Known as quickweed or galisonga in the United States, guasca comes packaged as a dehydrated spice and forms the essential ingredient of Ajiaco soup, a thick Colombian broth with chicken, potato, sour cream and corn. Leave it out and you have a generic chicken soup found across Latin America and the Caribbean. Source a pack from a Latin American store, on the other hand, and your soup has a quintessential Colombian character.
With a light, peppery, nutmeg taste and inviting yellow color, achiote is ubiquitous in the Colombian pantry. Also known as annatto or roucou, the spice comes from the seeds of the achiote tree, which grows across the Caribbean and South America. Similar to turmeric and saffron, achiote imbues stews with a warm, yellow-to-orange tinge or adds extra appeal to straightforward potatoes or rice.
Triguisar is so specific to Colombia that it is hard to find overseas. The authentic mix includes cumin, saffron, garlic powder, turmeric, corn starch and rice starch, giving a rich color and subtle flavor to slow-cooked stews. The closest substitute ex-pats is Sazon Goya, commonly found in U.S. supermarkets.