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~ The Difference Between Fajita and Taco Seasoning ~


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:

6a0120a8551282970b017d4140e28d970c-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b017ee8b46f2b970dChili powder, spelled with an "i" is an American concoction that bears little resemblence to chile powder, spelled with an "e".  Chili powder contains spices and salt.  

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.

Tx_satMexican food is Mexican food.  It varies from region to region and cook to cook, and, the blending of authentic spices is at the discretion of each cook in each region.

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?  

Mexican1011Fajitas 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.

IMG_9290The 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 corn tortillas when serving minced, ground or shredded protein (tacos).   Why?

When biting into strips of protein there is a "to the tooth" slightly- IMG_9235chewy 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!

51zVSx871oL._AA160_ 41-H56vvoFL._AA160_ 51b-ncAQfYL._AA160_ 41D2B2iXArL._AA160_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. IMG_9280Taco 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.

6a0120a8551282970b017d4150cc35970cMexican 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?

IMG_8163 IMG_9151Because 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!

Tex-Mex Campstove or Stovetop Chicken Fajitas:

IMG_8131Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon):

IMG_8665Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Ground Beef Tacos:


The Difference Between Fajita and Taco Seasoning:  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. 

IMG_8825Cook'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)  


Thanks for the nice feedback Sara!

This was such a helpful and informative article. Thank you!

Stephanie -- Thank-you for your comment. I went back into the post and added the links to the text. That said, the links (+ several more) were/are right there and available to everyone in the "Related Article" section at the end of the post. ~ Melanie

You need working links to your mix recipes!

Kathryn -- You're 100% correct and thanks for saying that. I tried to make it a great starting point with a lot of information and history. In this food world, every little bit helps! ~ Mel.

Very good for the novice to use!!

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