The protagonist of the novel, Tita is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, prohibited by family tradition from marrying so that she will be free to take care of her mother later in life. The novel follows Tita's life from birth to death, focusing mostly on her tortured relationship with Pedro, and her struggle and eventual triumph in pursuit of love and individuality.
The tyrannical, widowed matriarch of the De La Garza clan, Mama Elena is the prime source of Tita's suffering. Her fierce temperament inspires fear in all three of her daughters. She keeps Tita from her true love, Pedro, and it is later revealed that Mama Elena herself once suffered from a lost love, embittering her for the rest of her life.
Tita's true love, and the eventual father of Roberto and Esperanza. Denied marriage to Tita by Mama Elena, he agrees to marry Rosaura, breaking Tita's heart. Nevertheless, he asserts his continued love for Tita throughout the novel and pursues her secretly. Pedro dies after he and Tita are finally blissfully united while making love at the novel's end.
The second daughter of Mama Elena, Rosaura marries Pedro, much to the despair of Tita. Rosaura leaves the ranch when Mama Elena sends her and Pedro to San Antonio to keep Pedro and Tita apart. Her first child, Roberto, dies as an infant; her second, Esperanza, prohibited like Tita from ever marrying, weds Alex after Rosaura dies.
The eldest daughter of Mama Elena, Gertrudis escapes the ranch after reacting mysteriously to one of Tita's recipes. She runs away with a rebel soldier, works in a brothel at the Mexico-Texas border, and eventually returns to the ranch as a general in the revolutionary army. It is eventually revealed that Gertrudis is the offspring of a hidden, extramarital affair between Mama Elena and her true love, a mulatto man.
An American doctor who cares for Tita when she experiences a breakdown, and the father of Alex. John eventually falls in love with Tita and helps rehabilitate her soul, revealing to her the nature of the fire that resides in each individual. Tita becomes engaged to him, but eventually denies him marriage to pursue Pedro.
The ranch cook, of unspecified indigenous background, Nacha is the prime caretaker for Tita throughout her childhood, and provides her with the love and support that Mama Elena fails to give. She is also the source for most of the recipes in the novel. Nacha dies on the day of Rosaura's wedding but returns throughout the narrative as a spiritual guide for Tita.
The ranch maid, also of indigenous descent, Chencha possesses a somewhat flighty disposition. She becomes Tita's companion in the kitchen after Nacha's death.
The first child of Rosaura and Pedro, Roberto dies in America after being taken away from Tita's care.
The second child of Rosaura and Pedro, and the mother of the narrator of the novel. She is raised by Tita in the kitchen. Her marriage to Alex breaks the De La Garza family tradition that disallows the marriage of youngest daughters.
The son of Dr. John Brown, and the father of the narrator. He marries Esperanza.