Pan de Muerto
Norma Patiño Sánchez A01334948 9.jpg
Alternative namesBread of the dead
TypeSweet bread
Place of originMexico
A basket of pan de muerto
A basket of pan de muerto

Pan de muerto (Spanish for '"bread of the dead"'), is a type of pan dulce traditionally baked in Mexico and the Mexican diaspora during the weeks leading up to the Día de los Muertos, which is celebrated from November 1 to November 2.[1]


It is a sweetened soft bread shaped like a bun, often decorated with bone-shaped phalanx pieces.[2][3] Some traditions state that the rounded or domed top of the bread represents a grave.[3] Bread of the dead usually has skulls or crossbones added in extra dough.[4] The bones represent the deceased one (difuntos or difuntas), or perhaps bones coming out of a grave, there is normally a baked tear drop on the bread to represent goddess Chīmalmā's tears for the living.[3] The bones are often represented in a circle to portray the circle of life. The bread is topped with sugar, sometimes white and sometimes dyed pink.[5] This bread can be found in Mexican grocery stores in the U.S.

The classic recipe for pan de muerto is a simple sweet bread recipe, often with the addition of anise seeds, and other times flavored with orange flower water or orange zest.[5] The bread often contains some fat, such as butter. Its texture has been described as similar to that of challah, brioche, or falling between a concha and a hamburger bun.[6][5][7][3]

Other variations are made depending on the region or the baker. The one baking the bread will usually wear decorated wristbands, a tradition which was originally practiced to protect from burns on the stove or oven.

Pan de muerto is eaten on Día de Muertos, at the gravesite or alternatively, at a domestic altar called an ofrenda.[8] In some regions, it is eaten for months before the official celebration of Dia de Muertos. As part of the celebration, loved ones eat pan de muerto as well as the relative's favorite foods, but not those that have been placed on the ofrenda. It is believed the spirits do not eat, but absorb its essence, along with water at their ofrenda, after their long journey back to Earth.[5]



Pan de muerto is a syncretic practice between indigenous and Christian traditions, the origins of which do not have a clear consensus.[9][10]


Its Mesoamerican influences lie in pre-Columbian indigenous practices and Mesoamerican religion. The offering of amaranth cakes called tzoalli was documented in the writings of Bernardino de Sahagún.[11][10] Such offerings were linked to commemoration of the deceased,[12] or as offerings in various shapes to certain gods, such as Huītzilōpōchtli, Tlāloc and the Cihuapipiltin.[11][10] Other scholars tie it to seasonal changes, or the growing cycle of maize (corn), in which offerings to the dead encouraged a good harvest.[5] Some scholars describe the tradition as an outgrowth of human sacrifices, in which a heart was placed in amaranth, which under the influence of the Spaniards led to the development of a heart-shaped, amaranth-based baked good.[13][10]

The National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI) has related pan de muerto to the papalotlaxcalli, a butterfly-shaped tortilla, and to a tamale called huitlatamalli.[citation needed]


In medieval Europe, it was customary for some parishioners to prepare loaves or sugar sweets in the form of relics (bones or skulls) for All Saints and All Souls' Day.[10] These breads were blessed by the priest and placed next to the fruit and other foods as an offering to the dead.[14]

As a wheat bread, pan de muerto is one of many classic Mexican breads – such as bolillo, pan bazo and telera – that has counterparts in the bread of Spain, particularly those made of masa enriquecida [es] ('enriched dough', made of flour mixed with milk and eggs).[14][need quotation to verify]

The specific soft, sweetened, yeast bread known today as pan de muerto has been linked historically to Mallorcan ensaïmada.[15] Equivalents to pan de muerto can be found in Spain. For example, in the Madrid area it is traditional to put hueso de santo ('saint bones'; a sugar dough filled with egg yolk) on the graves,[16] and in Catalonia, there is pà d'ànimes ('bread of souls'), a votive bread offered to the deceased.[17] In Toledo, Spain, bread for the deceased was formerly prepared in the shape of a shrouded corpse.[18] In Corsica, it was typical to meet after the funeral to eat together, with bread being the main product of the table.[19] In Portugal, "widow's bread" is still prepared, although the tradition is being lost.[20] In Sicily, breads of the dead are prepared in the shape of a person with their arms crossed.[21] Elsewhere in Europe, doughs were shaped like human bones and covered with sugar. With the industrialization of Europe, the traditions of deceased panels disappeared from the old continent, but the tradition is still alive in Mexico.[citation needed]

20th and 21st centuries

Until the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, pan de muerto was not common in celebrations of what was then largely called All Saints’ Day, but the rise of Chicano cultural activism lead to an embrace of the bread, public altars, and the name Dia de los Muertos.[22] In Latinx communities in Los Angeles, for example, many public altars serve as protests, such as those dedicated to the victims of police brutality.[5]

With the rise of globalized cultural awareness starting in the 1990s, pan de muerto has become a cultural ambassador for Mexican popular culture. A 2019 Japanese exhibition at the National Museum of Ethnology on Mexican folk art, for example, included a baking demonstration and samples of the bread for visitors.[23] As a form of cultural outreach and collaboration with local communities, some American museums and institutions create public altars that include pan de muerto.[24][25]

Regional variations

In San Andrés Mixquic, despeinadas (literally, unkempt ones) are made with sprinkles and sesame seeds.[26]

Muertes (deaths), made in the State of Mexico, are made with a mix of sweet and plain dough with a small amount of cinnamon. Other types in the region include gorditas de maíz, aparejos de huevo (egg sinkers, apparently after fishing weights) and huesos (bones).[26]

In Michoacán, breads include pan de ofrenda (offering bread), the shiny pan de hule, (rubber bread) and corn-based corundas, made with tomato sauce and chile de árbol.[26]

In Puebla, and in diaspora communities, the bread often is coated with bright pink sugar.[7] Within Puebla, there are further regional specializations, with towns such as San Sebastián Zinacatepec known for baking pan de muerto.[27]

In popular culture

While the bread has always been an expression of popular religious celebrations, by the late 2010s, pan de muerto had become more known through several American pop culture representations. It appeared in the 2017 Pixar film Coco, which broadened recognition of the bread outside the Mexican diaspora.[28][5] In the award-winning young adult novel Cemetery Boys by Latinx author Aiden Thomas (2020), pan de muerto is a central component in a Dia de los Muertos celebration.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Castella, Krystina (October 2010). "Pan de Muerto Recipe". "Epicurious". Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  2. ^ Béligand, Nadine; Orensanz, Lucrecia (2007). "La muerte en la ciudad de México en el siglo XVIII". Historia Mexicana (in Spanish). 57 (1): 6. ISSN 0185-0172. JSTOR 25139765 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ a b c d Delgadillo, Natalie (October 31, 2016). "The Treat That Defines L.A.'s Day of the Dead". Bloomberg CityLab. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  4. ^ Brandes, Stanley (1998). "Iconography in Mexico's Day of the Dead: Origins and Meaning". Ethnohistory. 45 (2): 181–218. doi:10.2307/483058. ISSN 0014-1801. JSTOR 483058.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Morales, Christina (2021-10-29). "To Feed the Dead, You First Need Pan de Muerto". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-12-16.
  6. ^ Tecante, Alberto (2020-01-16), Nishinari, Katsuyoshi (ed.), "Textural Characteristics of Traditional Mexican Foods", Textural Characteristics of World Foods (1 ed.), Wiley, pp. 53–68, doi:10.1002/9781119430902.ch5, ISBN 978-1-119-43069-8, S2CID 214182252, retrieved 2021-12-16
  7. ^ a b Wharton, Rachel (2013-10-29). "Pan de Muerto Is Bread That Gets Into the Spirit". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-12-16.
  8. ^ Norget, Kristin (2021-07-14). "Popular-Indigenous Catholicism in Southern Mexico". Religions. 12 (7): 531. doi:10.3390/rel12070531. ISSN 2077-1444.
  9. ^ Calcanaz, María Magdalena (2015). "El pan de muerto : una práctica culinaria en los municipios de Genaro Códina, ciudad Cuauhtémoc, Pinos y Zacatecas". Experiencias de salvaguardia del patrimonio cultural inmaterial: nuevas miradas. Pública-Social 12 (in Spanish). Mexico City: Bonilla Artigas Editores. p. 320.
  10. ^ a b c d e Martínez, Alonso (2020-10-01). "El (supuesto) origen caníbal del Pan de Muerto". GQ (in Spanish). Retrieved 2022-05-15.
  11. ^ a b Brandes, Stanley (2009-02-04). "2. The Sweetness of Death". Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead: The Day of the Dead in Mexico and Beyond. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4051-7870-9.
  12. ^ Instituto Nacional de los Pueblos Indígenas (October 25, 2019). "El origen del pan de muerto y las variedades regionales actuales". Gobierno de México (in Spanish). Gobierno de México. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  13. ^ Vargas Muñoz, Karen; García Gómez, Norma (2017-11-30). "Pan de Muerto". Boletín Científico de las Ciencias Económico Administrativas del ICEA (in Spanish). 6 (11). doi:10.29057/icea.v6i11.2712. ISSN 2007-4913.
  14. ^ a b Zarauz López, Héctor (2000). La fiesta de muertos (in Spanish). México: Lindero Ediciones. p. 48. ISBN 968-5343-02-0. OCLC 45915333.
  15. ^ Velez, Adriana (October 26, 2020). "Pan de Muerto". Washington Post. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  16. ^ Velez, Adriana (October 26, 2020). "Pan de Muerto". Washington Post. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  17. ^ "pa d'ànimes". Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana (in Catalan). Retrieved 2022-05-15.
  18. ^ Nicolau, Antoni; Zimmermann, Simone; Bernardette Amouretti, Marie-Claire (2001). Sacred foods: bread, wine and oil in the ancient Mediterranean (in Catalan, English, and Spanish). Barcelona: City History Museum, Institute of Culture, City Council of Barcelona. pp. 101–107. ISBN 84-932113-2-X. OCLC 48639106.
  19. ^ Nicolau, Zimmermann & Bernardette Amouretti 2001, p. 105.
  20. ^ Nicolau, Zimmermann & Bernardette Amouretti 2001, p. 104.
  21. ^ Nicolau, Zimmermann & Bernardette Amouretti 2001, p. 106.
  22. ^ Marchi, Regina (2013). "Hybridity and Authenticity in US Day of the Dead Celebrations". The Journal of American Folklore. 126 (501): 277. doi:10.5406/jamerfolk.126.501.0272. ISSN 0021-8715. S2CID 145305495 – via Project MUSE.
  23. ^ Osorio Sunnucks, Laura; Levell, Nicola; Shelton, Anthony; Suzuki, Motoi; Isaac, Gwyneira; Marsh, Diana E. (2020-07-01). "Interruptions: Challenges and Innovations in Exhibition-Making: The Second World Museologies Workshop, National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU), Osaka, December 2019". Museum Worlds. 8 (1): 168–187. doi:10.3167/armw.2020.080112. ISSN 2049-6729. S2CID 229543070. Furthermore, Suzuki also emphasized the importance of multisensory installations and programming, and echoed Nakamura in feeling that these creative elements in the exhibition could communicate the language of Mexican culture sensorially rather than visually. … Suzuki described his delight when part of his museum became a bakery for making pan de muerto (“Day of the Dead bread”), and talked about his transformation from curator to baker.
  24. ^ Isaac, Gwyneira; Bojorquez, April; Nichols, Catherine (2012). "Dying to Be Represented: Museums and Día de los Muertos Collaborations". Collaborative Anthropologies. 5 (1): 28–63. doi:10.1353/cla.2012.0001. ISSN 2152-4009.
  25. ^ Davis, Kenneth G. (2006). "Dead Reckoning or Reckoning with The Dead: Hispanic Catholic Funeral Customs". Liturgy. 21 (1): 21–27. doi:10.1080/04580630500285964. ISSN 0458-063X. S2CID 145419815.
  26. ^ a b c "Pan de muerto: una sabrosa tradición" [Pan de muerto: a tasty tradition]. Vivir Mexico (in Spanish). October 26, 2011.
  27. ^ Licona Valencia, Ernesto (2014). "Un sistema de intercambio híbrido: el mercado/tianguis La Purísima, Tehuacán-Puebla, México". Antípoda. Revista de Antropología y Arqueología (in Spanish) (18): 137–163. doi:10.7440/antipoda18.2014.07. ISSN 1900-5407 – via ProQuest.
  28. ^ Avila, Jacqueline (2020). "Memorias de oro: Music, Memory, and Mexicanidad in Pixar's Coco (2017)". Americas: A Hemispheric Music Journal. 29 (1): 1–23. doi:10.1353/ame.2020.0009. ISSN 2768-1858. S2CID 241795474.
  29. ^ Gillis, Bryan (September 2021). "The honor list of 2020 prize-winning young adult books: Cultural knowledge in YA literature". English Journal, High School Edition. 111 (1): 71–76 – via ProQuest.