Food for the soul: Significance of Pan de Muerto on Day of the Dead

Pan de Muerto is believed to be offering to spirits of loved ones that have died

GUANAJATO, Mexico – Pan dulce is a sweet and savory staple of the Mexican culture and a cuisine known around the world.

The words “pan dulce” translate to “sweet bread,” and its origins in Central America can be traced back to the 16th century, when the French and Spaniards introduced pastries and bread making to people in Mexico.

The methods of baking the sweet bread have changed over centuries, but it’s estimated there are almost 2,000 different varieties of pan dulce produced across Mexico.

The most recognizable pan dulce in Mexico and the United States is the concha, the shell shaped bread that is sold year round.

But during Day of the Dead, Pan de Muerto is the sweet bread of choice to celebrate the holiday.

Historians trace the roots of Pan de Muerto to the Aztec tradition of placing food as offerings on the tombs of the deceased.

(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)

The food offerings are believed to sustain spirits and souls of loved ones on their journey to the land of the living and underworld.

The bread can be designed and shaped in many ways. Many bakeries or panaderias make Pan de Muerto in the shape of a skull or a rosary.

There are some in the form of a cross or four bones to symbolize the four courses of the universe.

The loaves are placed on ofrendas, or altars, with photos of departed loved ones.

The bread is part of the mix of snacks or food that a loved one may have enjoyed during their time on earth.

In February, a KSAT crew traveled to Mexico to learn more about the traditions associated with Dia de Muertos.

The images below are from a bakery in Guanajuato and restaurant in Mexico City.

Visit’s Day of the Dead section to learn more about holiday.

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(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)
(Image from Guanajato and Mexico City)

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.