Not to be confused with Tako (disambiguation). For other uses, see Taco (disambiguation).


Carnitas, carne asada and al pastor
Type Finger food
Place of origin Mexico
Main ingredients Tortillas, meat, vegetables, cheese
Cookbook: Taco  Media: Taco

A taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a corn or wheat tortilla folded or rolled around a filling. A taco can be made with a variety of fillings, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables and cheese, allowing for great versatility and variety. A taco is generally eaten without utensils and is often accompanied by garnishes such as salsa or chili pepper, avocado or guacamole, cilantro (coriander), tomatoes, onions and lettuce.


Various taco ingredients

The origins of the taco are not precisely known, and etymologies for the culinary usage of the word are theoretical.[1] According to the Real Academia Española, publisher of Diccionario de la Lengua Española, the word taco describes a typical Mexican dish of a maize tortilla folded around food ("Tortilla de maíz enrollada con algún alimento dentro, típica de México").[2] This meaning of the Spanish word "taco" is a Mexican innovation, but in other dialects "taco" is used to mean "wedge; wad, plug; billiard cue; blowpipe; ramrod; short, stocky person; short, thick piece of wood." As used in this non-culinary way, the word "taco" has cognates in other European languages, including the French word "tache" and the English word "tack (nail)."[3]

According to one etymological theory, the culinary meaning of "taco" derives from its "plug" meaning as employed among Mexican silver miners, who used explosive charges in plug form consisting of a paper wrapper and gunpowder filling.[1] However, indigenous origins for the culinary word "taco" are also proposed. One possibility is that the word derives from the Nahuatl word "tlahco", meaning "half" or "in the middle,"[4] in the sense that food would be placed in the middle of a tortilla.[5] Also, the Náhuatl word for the corn tortilla (an indigenous Pre-Columbian invention) is "tlaxcalli".[4]


The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. There is anthropological evidence that the indigenous people living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate tacos filled with small fish. Writing at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Bernal Díaz del Castillo documented the first taco feast enjoyed by Europeans, a meal which Hernán Cortés arranged for his captains in Coyoacán.[6][7] If one accepts the theory that the culinary word "taco" derives from its non-culinary usage in Continental Spanish as opposed to indigenous etymological theories, it is not clear why the Spanish would have used a word in their own language to describe this indigenous food.

Traditional tacos

There are many traditional varieties of tacos:

Tacos al pastor made with adobada meat.
Two fish tacos in Bonita, California

As an accompaniment to tacos, many taco stands will serve whole or sliced red radishes, lime slices, salt, pickled or grilled chilis (hot peppers), and occasionally cucumber slices, or grilled cambray onions.

Non-traditional variations

Hard-shell tacos

Beginning from the early part of the twentieth century, various styles of tacos have become popular in the United States and Canada.[15] An early appearance of a description of the taco in the United States in English was in a 1914 cookbook, California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook, by Bertha Haffner Ginger.[16] The style that has become most common is the hard-shell, U-shaped version described in a cookbook, The good life: New Mexican food, authored by Fabiola Cabeza de Vaca Gilbert and published in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1949.[17] These have been sold by restaurants and by fast food chains. Even non-Mexican oriented fast food restaurants have sold tacos. Mass production of this type of taco was encouraged by the invention of devices to hold the tortillas in the U-shape as they were deep-fried. A patent for such a device was issued to New York restaurateur Juvenico Maldonado in 1950, based on his patent filing of 1947 (U.S. Patent No. 2,506,305).[18][19] Such tacos are crisp-fried corn tortillas filled with seasoned ground beef, cheese, lettuce, and sometimes tomato, onion, salsa, sour cream, and avocado or guacamole.[20]

Soft-shell tacos

Traditionally, soft-shelled tacos referred to corn tortillas that were cooked to a softer state than a hard taco - usually by grilling or steaming. More recently the term has come to include flour tortilla based tacos mostly from large manufacturers and restaurant chains. In this context, soft tacos are tacos made with wheat flour tortillas and filled with the same ingredients as a hard taco.[21]

Breakfast taco

Breakfast tacos

The breakfast taco, found in Tex-Mex cuisine, is a soft corn or flour tortilla filled with meat, eggs, or cheese, with other ingredients.[22] Some have claimed that Austin, Texas is the home of the breakfast taco.[23] However, food writer and OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano responded that such a statement reflects a common trend of "whitewashed" foodways reporting, noting that predominantly Hispanic San Antonio, Texas "never had to brag about its breakfast taco love—folks there just call it 'breakfast.'"[24]

Indian taco

Indian tacos, or Navajo tacos, are made using frybread instead of tortillas. They are commonly eaten at pow-wows, festivals, and other gatherings by and for indigenous people in the United States and Canada.[25][26]

Puffy tacos, taco kits and tacodillas

Since at least 1978, a variation called the "puffy taco" has been popular. Henry's Puffy Tacos, opened by Henry Lopez in San Antonio, Texas, claims to have invented the variation, in which uncooked corn tortillas (flattened balls of masa dough[27]) are quickly fried in hot oil until they expand and become "puffy".[28][29] Fillings are similar to hard-shell versions. Restaurants offering this style of taco have since appeared in other Texas cities, as well as in California, where Henry's brother, Arturo Lopez, opened Arturo's Puffy Taco in Whittier, not long after Henry's opened.[30][31] Henry's continues to thrive, managed by the family's second generation.[28]

Kits are available at grocery and convenience stores and usually consist of taco shells (corn tortillas already fried in a U-shape), seasoning mix and taco sauce. Commercial vendors for the home market also market soft taco kits with tortillas instead of taco shells.[32][33]

The tacodilla contains melted cheese in between the two folded tortillas, thus resembling a quesadilla.[34]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Where Did the Taco Come From?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2012-05-16.
  2. "Definition: Taco". Real Academia Española. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  3. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Spanish Language . . .," Edward A. Roberts, p.588 (2014)
  4. 1 2 Frances E. Karttunen (1983). An Analytical Dictionary of Nahuatl. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806124216. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  5. Florilegio Verbal Náhuatl, Nexos, Mar. 12, 2016
  6. "History of Mexican Cuisine". Margaret Parker. Archived from the original on 2 May 2008. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  7. "A Thumbnail History of Mexican Food". Jim Conrad. Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos (Part One of Two)". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2008-07-07.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Graber, Karen Hursh. "Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos Part II: Nighttime Tacos". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2008-07-07.
  10. Graber, Karen Hursh. "Tacos de camaron y nopalitos". Mexico Connect. Retrieved 2009-08-14.
  11. Feld, Jonah (2006). "The Burrito Blog — Buche". Retrieved 2008-07-26.
  12. Bourdain, Anthony (7 June 2010). Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. A&C Black. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-4088-0914-3.
  13. Maria Herrera-Sobek (16 July 2012). Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 697. ISBN 978-0-313-34340-7.
  14. "Tacos Sudados (Mexican recipe)". Mexican Cuisine. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  15. "Tacos, Enchilidas and Refried Beans: The Invention of Mexican-American Cookery". Oregon State University. Archived from the original on 2007-07-18. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
  16. Ginger, Bertha Haffner (1914). California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook. Bedford, Massachusetts (USA): Applewood Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4290-1256-0. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  17. Freedman, Robert L. (1981). Human food uses: a cross-cultural, comprehensive annotated bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-313-22901-5. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  18. US 2506305, Maldonado, Juvencio, "Form for frying tortillas to make fried tacos", published 1947-06-21, issued 1950-05-02
  19. Pilcher, Jeffrey (Winter 2008). "Was the Taco Invented in Southern California?". Gastronomica. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 8 (1): 26–38. doi:10.1525/gfc.2008.8.1.26. ISSN 1529-3262.
  20. Gilb, Dagoberto (2006-03-19). "Taco Bell Nation". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  21. "Homemade Chorizo Soft Tacos (recipe)". BigOven.com. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  22. Stradley, Linda. "Breakfast Tacos". What's Cooking America. Retrieved 2008-07-09.
  23. How Austin Became the Home of the Crucial Breakfast Taco, Eater Austin, Feb. 19, 2016,
  24. Gustavo Arrellano (23 February 2016), "Who Invented Breakfast Tacos? Not Austin - and People Should STFU About It", OC Weekly, retrieved 14 March 2016
  25. "Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos: History and Recipes of Navajo Fry Bread and Indian Tacos". Linda Stradley. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  26. "Hundreds attend powwow". Louisiana Broadcasting LLC and Capital City Press LLC. Archived from the original on 4 March 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  27. "Homemade Corn Tortillas (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  28. 1 2 Lankford, Randy. "Henry's Puffy Tacos - San Antonio". TexasCooking.com. Mesquite Management, Inc. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  29. "Puffy Tacos (recipe from Saveur)". Saveur. 2003. Retrieved 2008-07-26.
  30. Gold, Jonathan (2008-07-23). "Getting Stuffed at Arturo's Puffy Taco". LA Weekly. LA Weekly LP. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  31. Chisholm, Barbara (2004-04-30). "The Puffy Taco Invasion". The Austin Chronicle. 23 (35). Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  32. "Old El Paso Taco Dinner Kit". Ciao! Shopping Intelligence — UK (blog). Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  33. "Ortega Taco Kits". B&G Foods. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
  34. "Green tomato and corn tacodillas". Honest Fare. June 1, 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2010.


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