Calabaza en Tacha: A Slice of Mexican Tradition

With the arrival of fall, pumpkin season also begins. In the United States, this fruit is related to the Halloween festivities but, in Mexico, the pumpkin is used to make Calabaza en Tacha, also known as dulce de tacha or dulce de calabaza, a typical dessert that is commonly seen during Día de Muertos festivities and throughout Fall.

Having just passed this holiday and prepared this recipe, we cannot take that dessert out of our minds so today, we decided to share with you this delicious family recipe! Plus, if you're searching for a unique Thanksgiving dessert recipe or wondering what to do with leftover pumpkin, this family recipe for Calabaza en Tacha is a treasure trove of culture and flavor.

Calabaza en Tacha's Origins and History

Calabaza en Tacha, also known as "dulce de calabaza" (pumpkin sweet), is a quintessential Mexican dish that embodies the fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions and Spanish colonial influence.

The name "Calabaza en Tacha" is a nod to the method of preparation. Its name, "en tacha," refers to the large cauldron-like pot traditionally used to prepare this dish. There are stories that say that the pumpkin used to be cooked this way in large pots called "Tachos", large copper cauldrons where the Piloncillo was made. The pumpkins were cooked in the residue of those containers and therefore the name Pumpkin in tacha. Over time, the name has become synonymous with the dish itself, evoking images of family gatherings and festive celebrations.

The tradition of making calabaza en tacha dates back to pre-Columbian times when indigenous peoples in what is now Mexico grew pumpkins and other squashes as part of their staple diet. With the arrival of the Spanish, ingredients such as cane sugar and cinnamon were introduced. (Also read empanadas de calabaza, pumpkin empanadas recipe).

These were soon incorporated into indigenous recipes, giving rise to new culinary traditions. Calabaza en Tacha is believed to have been a favored dish of Queen Isabel of Castilla, which speaks to its widespread appeal and the blending of cultures during the colonial era.

The use of vanilla in calabaza en tacha is a beautiful example of Mexico’s history, where indigenous dishes incorporated European influences. Such is the case of vanilla, native to Mexico, that was used by the Aztecs to flavor chocolate, and it became a prized flavoring in Europe after the Spanish brought it back from the New World. 

Cultural Significance and Uses

Calabaza en Tacha is deeply intertwined with the celebration of Día de Muertos, a festival that honors the deceased. During this time, families prepare ofrendas (altars) where the candied pumpkin is offered as a sweet treat for visiting spirits. The dish is not only a dessert but also a symbol of respect and remembrance for loved ones who have passed away.

However, this is also a dessert that is served during Fall. As you probably know by now, Mexican sweets come in all flavors and shapes, but most of them are made using healthy, natural and seasonal ingredients, which is why no one has to wonder why we love Calabaza en Tacha so much.

Preparation and Flavor

Making Calabaza en Tacha is pretty straightforward. You cook pumpkin pieces in a sweet syrup made from raw cane sugar, called piloncillo, and add a bit of cinnamon for that cozy spice. The pumpkin soaks up all the sweet goodness, turning soft and delicious. Some folks like to throw in a bit of orange zest or other spices to make it even better. While it's a favorite for Día de Muertos in the fall, you can actually enjoy this dish any time of the year. How about a traditional Mexican dessert for this Thanksgiving? (Also see: Flavors for (F)all: 2 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes to Try)

Let’s jump into the recipe now!


Special note: For Calabaza en Tacha, the type of pumpkin used is quite important to achieve the traditional texture and flavor. In Mexico, the most commonly used type is "Calabaza de Castilla,” (curcubita moschata) which is similar to what is known as a "sugar pumpkin" or "pie pumpkin" in the United States. These pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than the large pumpkins typically used for carving jack-o'-lanterns. They have a firmer flesh that holds up well during cooking and has a sweet, nutty flavor that is ideal for desserts. However, if you cannot find that pumpkin in your area, use another one but pay attention to it as their skin is not as thick and may crumble faster.


Calabaza en Tacha Mexican Dessert


  • 1 medium-sized Calabaza de Castilla (sugar pumpkin), about 4 ½ lbs, cut into large chunks with skin on
  • 2 ½ cups of piloncillo (or dark brown sugar as a substitute)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 whole guayabas (guavas), cut into halves or quarters, depending on size
  • 1 vanilla bean (split lengthwise) or 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 orange (optional for added citrus flavor) 

Start by rinsing the pumpkin and guava thoroughly, especially since you will be throwing them into the pot directly without peeling.

Cut the pumpkin into large chunks, leaving the skin on to help the pumpkin hold its shape during cooking, and clean its seeds off. If you prefer to use the seeds separately, remove the seeds and veins, or you can also cook them with the syrup. Make a small cross-shaped cut on top of the guava. 

In a large pot, add water and bring it to a boil. Then add the piloncillo, and cinnamon sticks. If you're using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the pot and add the bean pod as well. 

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the piloncillo has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the pumpkin chunks. Place a few pieces of squash skin side down and then place the rest of the squash skin side up, there’s not really a correct way to place them as long as the entire pumpkin is covered.

Once the pumpkin is in the pot, add the guayaba pieces around the pumpkin. If you're using orange zest, sprinkle it over the top now. If you're using vanilla extract, stir it in now.

Allow the pumpkin and guayaba to simmer gently in the syrup for about 1 to 1.5 hours. The pumpkin should be tender and the guayaba soft but not disintegrating.

Once the squash is cooked, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a tray, cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while the syrup continues to cook and reduces.

Return the syrup to a boil, raising the heat to medium high. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until it thickens. Return the squash pieces to the pot.

Let the Calabaza en Tacha cool slightly in the syrup, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Traditionally, Calabaza en Tacha are plated as a slice with syrup and sometimes warm milk. If you are looking for traditional serveware, you can find it all here.

As an additional tip, store any leftovers in the refrigerator. As time passes, the flavors will continue to develop. In fact, at our house we personally prefer leftover calabaza en tacha. 

As always, we cherish the versatility of Mexican recipes, which invite personal touches to make each dish uniquely yours. For example, we know by heart this recipe, provided to us by my tía Martha, is not the traditional one.
-With Calabaza en Tacha, the possibilities for customization are just as delightful. If you're looking to add a twist to this classic dessert, consider infusing the syrup with different spices or citrus zests. For instance, adding the hint of orange zest alongside the guayaba creates a beautiful citrusy undertone that complements the sweetness of the piloncillo. 
-For those who enjoy a bit of texture, consider sprinkling in some chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts during the last few minutes of simmering for a satisfying crunch. If you're looking to reduce the sugar content, you can experiment with less piloncillo or substitute part of it with a natural sweetener like agave, keeping in mind that the consistency and flavor of the syrup may vary.
-Lastly, if you’re looking for a vegan option ensure the piloncillo is vegan certified (because piloncillo is sometimes processed using bone char) or use unrefined cane sugar (ensure it's vegan-certified), instead of piloncillo and serve with your favorite milk, if you seek that velvety flavor.

Remember, the beauty of dishes like Calabaza en Tacha lies in their adaptability. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or infuse it with your own creative flair, the end result is sure to be a heartwarming treat that celebrates the essence of Mexican culinary heritage! 


So, what do you think? Is this a recipe you will be trying soon? Is there any other recipe you would like for us to share with you all? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you! 

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