What Is in Taco Seasoning, Actually?

Every season is taco season! So that means you should always have some taco seasoning on hand! But what is in taco seasoning? Let’s taco ‘bout it.

When I was just a young, abnormally large boy, my family partook in Tuesday tacos with a spread of hard taco shells, iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, and ground beef liberally sprinkled with a packet of taco seasoning. As I grew older and discovered the amazing restaurants and taco trucks in my city and then traveled abroad, I came to the realization that those basic tacos I had as a child were still delicious and valid, and a food’s “authenticity” is rarely worth arguing over. There is beauty in every taco. And one of the things that has helped spread that beauty all over the world is taco seasoning. What is taco seasoning? It’s what makes some tacos possible.

What is in taco seasoning? 

Taco seasoning is a dry, savory spice blend packed with warming, semi-spicy, and salty flavors. There’s no definitive recipe; most store brands and home recipes will vary by at least a few ingredients. But let’s talk about what spices are in taco seasoning, generally. Taco seasoning usually contains salt, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and chili. The spices in one popular taco seasoning recipe are chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, sea salt, black pepper, ground paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and crushed red pepper flakes. Other common taco seasoning spices are coriander and cayenne. And while it’s not technically a spice, cornstarch is also a common ingredient. Cornstarch works great as an anti-clumping agent in many recipes. Most of the store bought packs have about one ounce of seasoning up in there. Taco seasoning can be used in soups, casseroles, dips, and if you’re feeling frisky, even tacos!

Is taco seasoning gluten free? 

If you make taco seasoning at home with spices like chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and salt, then you can ensure that you have a gluten free product. But if you’re buying your taco seasoning from the store, you need to check the label. Some brands use wheat flour or yeast extract as thickeners or preservatives. Those ingredients do contain gluten. Some brands have special, gluten free mixes available as well.

Where did taco season come from?

Of course, people have been seasoning fillings for tacos in Mexico for ages. But if we’re talking about the ready-to-use packets available in the grocery store, well, that all started with a German-born Texan named Willie Gebhardt who created a dry chili powder mix in 1894. It enabled people without access to fresh chilis to just toss Willie’s powder on some meat and make chili! This set the stage for more powdered mixes to flourish—like taco seasoning. Companies like Lawry’s, Old El Paso, Ortega, and McCormick created their own, unique taco seasoning blends and Tuesday nights were never the same. 

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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