~ The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that". ~
Like fajita seasoning, taco seasoning is a standarized concoction of spices common to Tex-Mex cuisine. It was invented for convenience sake by American manufacturers for modern day American cooks trying to find an easy way to mimic authentic flavors without really learning how to cook the dish authentically. A standarized blend of anything is a totally foreign concept to Mexican cooks -- and that includes our American-manufactured chili powders. Read on:
Mexican cooks use personalized blends of pure, unadulterated, dried chile pepper. The "e" in the spelling designates "plant or pod" (nothing else is used in its making), so, if it is pure dried chile powder you're in the market for, look for the "e" in the name. For more details, click on the Related Article link below and read ~ Is it spelled chile or chili? It's not a regional thing! ~.
What are the differences between fajita and taco seasoning?
I get asked this oftener than I would like. I am writing this post with the hope of encouraging more family cooks to make their own blends (it takes less than 5 minutes), not to criticize those that do not. The following is my explanation -- it is a combination of logic and a few cold, hard facts. When it comes to store-bought or home-blended fajita and taco seasonings, I am very careful to use the words Tex-Mex "-style". Why? There is no such thing as an "authentic" wed-in-stone recipe for either. They do not not exist, not even in Mexico. Burritos, tacos, fajitas and everything and anything that can get placed in a tortilla and eaten is related to each other.
When we Americans settled in Texas, it was only natural that Mexican and Texan food fused together, but even then, it was the Texans who imitated the Mexicans, not the reverse. Tex-Mex cuisine was born -- I've never seen a Mex-Tex eatery in Mexico, have you?
Thanks to street fairs, rodeos and carnivals, home-grown Tex-Mex cuisine traveled into the Southwestern USA, and, once it gained in popularity, restaurants realized how lucrative it was, latched onto it, and, distinctions emerged. The same basic spices made up the flavor profile for the American idea of Americanized fajita and taco spice blends, with fajita seasoning being subtler than taco seasoning (and I think it should be). Why?
Fajitas are usually made with quickly-cooked grilled or pan-seared proteins and crisp-tender vegetables, and, are served with the condiments to the side, allowing the flavors of the filling and vegetables to stand on their own. Tacos are often made with slower-cooked sauted or stewed minced or shredded filling and are served with the condiments on top, requiring the need for taco filling to be bolder (and I think it should be). I think of fajitas as being tangy, bright, herby and al fresco, and, tacos as being smoky, spicy, earthy and comfy-cozy. I love them both.
The tortilla (the holder for the fahita or taco) can be soft and made of soft wheat-flour, or crispy and made of corn flour. It is your choice but my general rule is: soft flour tortillas when serving strips of grilled protein (fajitas) and crispy flour tortillas when serving minced, ground or shredded protein. Why?
When biting into strips of protein there is a "to the tooth" slightly- chewy pull that requires a soft, flexible holder to keep the sandwich from falling apart. A crispy shell shatters under these circumstances.
When biting into small, soft bits of protein, a crispy, rigid holder compresses down around each bite, also keeping the sandwich from falling apart. While a soft tortilla will certainly not cause this type of sandwich to fall apart, a crispy shell against a soft protein is more pleasing to the palate!
Depending on the manufacturer: Store-bought fajita seasonings contain citric acid granules which mimics the flavor of the fresh lime juice (or other citrus) that is usually part of the marinade and gets squirted over the dish at the end too -- it is what give fajitas their classic 'soury' tang. Taco seasonings often contain dehydrated tomato powder (a product that I like a lot and will be discussing more in the near future). It mimics the acid from fresh tomatoes or various bottled or canned tomato products, which are frequently cooked into taco meat mixtures.
Chili powder and cumin are found in both mixtures, with earthy cumin being more prevalent in the subtle fajita seasoning and chili powder being more prevalent in the bolder taco seasoning. Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and/or sugar are commonly found in both -- I use fresh garlic and onion in my preparation, so I do not add them to my blends.
Mexican oregano and/or coriander, both considered background spices, can make an appearance in both as well. Mexican oregano (a member of the lemon verbena family and quite different from Mediterranean oregano) adds a vibrant lemony tang, while coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant) adds an earthy lemony tang -- both of these ingredients, used together or separately, play very well with cumin. Corn starch or corn flour are sometimes added as thickeners -- I prefer not to use them.
Can fajita and taco seasonings be used interchangeably?
Because I make my own seasonings, in a pinch, I wouldn't hesitate doing it. If I promised my kids fajitas or tacos, the difference wouldn't be enough for me to disappoint them. Would they notice? I'm not sure. The difference between my two blends, while definitive, is relatively subtle. Why? The absence of citric acid or tomato powder and corn flour or corn starch, along with additives and preservatives evens the playing field somewhat, meaning: If one is substituting store-bought fahita seasoning for store-bought taco seasoning, the substitution will be evident. That said, if you are snowed in with nothing more than a packet of one or the other in your pantry, whatever Tex-Mex fare you're serving will taste a little bit different than expected, but, you're at zero risk of ruining your family's dinner -- enjoy it!
The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that".: Store-bought, 1-ounce seasoning packets yield and use 4 tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein. My 4-ounce homemade fajita and taco blends yield and use: 2 tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein.
Special Equipment List: Click on the Related Article links below, and, with each detailed recipe, you'll get a list of the hardware you'll need to prepare it!
Cook's Note: ~ "Yes Virginia, there is such as a thing as a Taco Ring!" (One of my "I can't believe I am posting this posts".) ~, can be found in Categories 1, 13, 17, 19 or 20. Perfect for picnics or tailgates!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)