The bread bestiary of Oaxaca

It’s official, friends, Day of the Dead and Halloween have come to an end, and with them the furor for pan de muerto, pumpkin recipes, calaveritas (decorative skulls) and the celebrations with disturbing dishes serving up simulated severed limbs in which the most passionate revelers partake. However, some may recall from our pan de muerto post that, in addition to the local pan de muerto, the state of Oaxaca has an entire catalog.


This southern region of Mexico probably has the richest tradition when it comes to pan de muerto, not only due to the preparation methods, but also for the diversity of shapes and colors. And despite the love we have for this seasonal treat born out of the mixing of cultures, we cannot ignore our roots. So, here, we share with you seven of the most extravagant types of Oaxacan pan de muerto.


This bread, despite being simple in its elaboration, is no less symbolic, since the rectangular pound cake has the name of the deceased written across it in frosting.


Pan de carita (face bread)

This egg yolk bread with a sesame seed topping has a small face made of wheat flour. It is usually made with the help of a specialized mold (which can represent a more feminine or masculine face) and is left to dry in the sun and then meticulously painted. The face is said to have originally represented that of an angel. Some manufacturers have diversified the shapes to more accurately represent a particular person and, for memento mori fans, there are also those with a small hand-painted skull.

Nioxtila chojta (person’s bread)

This bread from the Cañada region of Oaxaca is made with anise, vanilla, and sesame seeds and prepared in a wood-fired oven. It is normally placed on the altar for an adult who has died.

Photo: El Dictamen

Pan de ánima (soul bread)

Similar to the nioxtila chojta, but it represents the soul of the deceased. If the person died as a child, the sugar coating the bread will be white, and if they died as an adult, it will be magenta or a reddish color. It is analogous to the purity of our souls as children, which is lost as we age.


Pan de yema (yolk bread)

Made similarly to pan de carita (it may even have an unpainted face). Instead of sesame seeds, it has a glaze of lemon, egg, and sugar, which, peculiarly, is often used to make intricate drawings that symbolize the vegetation that grows on and around us after we die.


Pan de sirena (mermaid bread)

This fish-shaped bread, originally from Papaloapan, does not have a particularly commemorative function, but is intended to bring good fortune to fishermen.

Pan de muerto costeño (coastal bread of the dead)

Similar to the pan de carita (though made with butter), it has a more ghostly shape. It is quite large, and as such, it is placed with offerings proportional to its size. It is recommended to soak it in a hot drink when eating it.


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