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Sep 3, 2009 10:08 AM

Anything authentic about "Taco Seasoning"?

Ok, so recently I picked up Chicken taco seasoning instead of Beef Taco seasoning at the store, and since I didn't have time to fix my mistake, I looked up a recipe to make it myself. And, what do you know, it turned out pretty good!

That got me thinking though, I would guess that the "Taco Seasoning" is the americanized twist on a more authentic seasoning or sause. If so, why shouldn't I make that instead? That's why I'm here. Where did this Taco Seasoning come from? What dish is it based on?

The ingredients in a spice pack are along the lines of:

Chili powder
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder
Ground oregano

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


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  1. when i make tacos, i use a combination of chili powder, salt, diced onion, cumin, coriander, minced garlic, mexican oregano, cinnamon, some cocoa powder.

    2 Replies
    1. re: kubasd

      cocoa powder was in the store bought one too. I was surprised about that, but then remembered that it is used in mole sauces. So, are the "Taco Seasonings" some sort of instant mole sauce?

      1. re: kubasd

        I do pretty much the same, only no cocoa powder. More of an emphasis on the hot chili powder and cayenne. Sometimes a splash of soy sauce at the end if I feel like channeling my dad. My spouse, the main cook, uses McCormick and then I doctor it up when I can.

        I grew up on this homebrew in So Cal 40 years ago, Asian and German/Jewish/California roots.

      2. When I make tacos it's GFG grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts (cubed after grilling) that have been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled on with adobe seasoning . It's the ingredients you add to the meat after it's cooked. Taco seasoning is an American thing and not used in tradtional Mexican tacos and quite frankly, is just plain crap. After adding meat on to a tortilla thats been heated in a flat cast iron skillet with a little vegetable oil or vegetable spray, douse with a red or green salsa...finley chopped onion...chopped cilantro...fresh squeezed lime juice. Now that's flavor no taco seasoning can equal.

        2 Replies
        1. re: crt

          That may be it! Adobe seasoning looks like it contains most of the same ingredients as the "Taco Seasoning."

          A recipe for adobe seasoning contains:

          1/4 cup sweet paprika
          3 tablespoons ground black pepper
          2 tablespoons onion powder
          2 tablespoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
          2 tablespoons ground cumin
          1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder
          1 tablespoon garlic powder

          Very similar!

          You are right that there is much more to a taco than just the seasoning on the meat!

          1. re: bigipps

            Adobe seasoning - just the thing when you're making sun-dried bricks! Adobo seasoning, OTHO -

            This sounds like a good basic recipe (I suspect there are as many variants as there are grandmothers): I'd use a mix of roasted dried chiles in place of some of the paprika, but that's a personal preference.

        2. I've been wondering the same thing actually - glad to see I am not alone. My problem ends up being that I prefer not to use the pre-packaged stuff and would prefer to make my own...BUT my husband always uses McCormick Taco Seasonings (no other kind - authentic I'm sure!!) and likes the way that tastes and doesn't want to change. I would love to come up with something more authentic without being drastically different to ease the transition.

          Bigipps - have you tried your own version yet?

          1 Reply
          1. re: cookie44

            I did, and it was pretty good, but I'll probably keep fine tuning it.. Since I have the spices on hand anyways, I have realized that I don't need to spend $1.00 per meal on the store bought stuff. I'm just happy that I have found a way to use up the spices that sit in my cabinet.

          2. What kind of tacos are we talking about? Taco Bell style - crisp half moon shell, loose ground beef, shredded cheese, lettuce etc? If your seasoning flavors the meat in that style, then it is authentic TB seasoning. It is a variant on the seasonings used to make chili.

            If instead you are talking about the small soft shell tacos that you can get from a taco truck (or taco cart or stall in Mexico city), then your seasoning is way off. First, with those you get a choice of meat, often freshly chopped - tongue, beef cheeks, chiterlins (tripas), tripe, beef or pork that has been marinated in a chile (with an 'e') sauce, and quickly grilled, or season meat cut of a gyro like roll. Toppings are a light touch of chopped onion, cillantro, and hot peppers, and lime.

            4 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              Chili, eh? I thought you were a little crazy, but then that got me thinking. What does my ground beef with spices remind me most of from mexican restaurants? My first answer was shredded beef, or machaca. I looked up a recipe (, and what do you know. The seasonings are based off of chili. Good show paulj. It seems like both of these (the american taco and the machaca) are more tex mex than mexican.

              I would assume then that Adobo seasoning mentioned above is used more in tex mex than mexican.

              1. re: bigipps

                I believe the original machaca is northern Mexican (think the dry northern states, bordering the USA) - dried beef (jerky) pounded and then cooked and seasoned. I think there are variations that shred 'pot roast'. Of course there's going to a overlap with Texas chili, especially the versions that grew out of cowboy chuck wagon stews and the offerings of the San Antonio chili queens. They didn't buy 80/20 ground beef from the super market.

                But the base for chili is a trio - ground mild red dried chiles, cumin, mexican oregano. So it is natural, if you want something with a SW or TexMex flavor, to start with these.

                1. re: bigipps

                  Interestingly, Robb Walsh and others report that Canary Islander immigrants to south Texas brought the taste for cumin heavy seasoning - much more so than Spaniards and Mexicans. So, in effect, cumin got to Texas from both east and west.
                  So pass me some of that 'North African' taco seasoning please.....

                  1. re: DiveFan

                    Are you sure there is a North African influence in Canary cooking? It isn't obvious in recipes for that area in my Spanish cookbooks. Cumin is used in several 'mojos' (sauces), but not significantly elsewhere. North African influences in Spain date from the 500yrs of Moorish rule.

                    These islands have a crossroads since the days of Columbus, so a lot of influences have passed through there. There's probably been more feedback from Latin America into the Canary Islands than any other part of Spain.

              2. crt and paulj are correct, prepackaged taco seasoning is unnecessary Crap!

                If you must use ground beef, try my Gringo Taco recipe if you want something better than fast food.

                In authentic Mexican tacos (and the better American ones), the meat seasoning isn't that important.
                - Use good meat and cook it appropriately (I know, sounds a little general).
                - Prepare your own salsa! Most table salsas are just chile (fresh or dried), tomato or tomatillo, a dash of salt, garlic. Many recipes require roasting the veggies. NO bottled salsa, EVER!
                - Soft corn tortillas. Please, NO premade yellow cardboard shells! Use two per taco, slightly overlapped.
                - Minced onion and cilantro, to taste.

                Browse the recipe section for many good ideas. Searching on words in the title works better.