Did you know that Oct. 4 was National Taco Day in the United States?
Do you have any idea why Oct. 4 was selected?
You might think that it marks the day that tacos were created. No, that’s not it.
Or, maybe it signifies the day that tacos were first introduced to the United States.
Nope, that’s not it either.
Maybe it’s the day that a national taco chain decided to declare it so, as part of an advertising campaign. Yep, that’s it!
That campaign occurred in 2009 and the designation stuck.
But there are some connections to the taco’s Hispanic roots.
National Taco Day is celebrated in the middle of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. And that month coincides with independence days in several Latin American countries.
Still, who needs to wait until October to celebrate tacos?
Obviously, many restaurants don’t.
“Taco Tuesday” is offered at numerous restaurants on a regular basis.
Maybe you’re curious about where tacos began.
First, let’s start with the basics.
One dictionary defines the taco as a Mexican dish made of a folded tortilla, sometimes fried into a hard taco shell, and filled with meat, cheese, lettuce or other ingredients.
This is how most Americans likely define it, too.
Historically, though, the word “taco” had different definitions before it became associated with the popular food dish.
The word taco is generally believed to have its origins in the 18th century, in association with silver mines in Mexico.
History professor Jeffrey M. Pilcher reported the first recorded use of “taco” was in reference to “miner’s tacos” or “tacos de minero.”
That phrase was used in connection with the gunpowder wrapped in paper, used to demolish silver mines.
The first mention of the word taco in the United States is believed to have been in a newspaper, dating back to the early 1900s.
As Mexican migrants came over to work the mines, railroads, and similar jobs, they brought Mexican food with them.
Americans initially looked down on Mexican food, as lower-class street food.
But it became mainstream around the 1920s when the migrants’ children started to advance economically and began adding “American” types of ingredients such as ground beef, instead of organ meat, and iceberg lettuce, tomato, shredded yellow cheese, and sour cream.
Traditional Mexican toppings include meat, cilantro, lime and onion.
The version of tacos that we’re familiar with in the United States is less than 100 years old. It would be considered Tex-Mex, rather than traditional Mexican cuisine.
An authentic taco has a fresh corn tortilla, as corn has been the main crop in Mexico for thousands of years.
Some historians say that flour tortillas became common in northern Mexico, including what is now the Southwestern United States, when Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition settled there. The Jews didn’t consider corn tortillas to be kosher, so they made tortillas with wheat they brought from Europe.
But there are other origin stories on flour tortillas, too.
The fried, crunchy U-shaped tortilla shell further popularized tacos because the longer shelf life of the hard shells made it more fitting for use in a mass-producing, fast-food environment.
Taco Bell opened in the early 1960s.
Of course, there are varying opinions on the ingredients that comprise a taco, such as the type of cheese or variety of tomato, for instance.
There can be regional differences, too.
Over the years, taco lovers have been creative — using whatever ingredients they have available, including beef, pork, shrimp, fish or beans.
Barbacoa and barbecue tacos are extremely popular in the southern United States, particularly in Texas. These tacos usually contain specific cuts of beef.
Korean Tacos are a unique fusion of Asian and Spanish cuisine.
CNN journalist Forrest Brown recently reported on the historical popularity of breakfast tacos in cities in northern Mexico and neighboring Texas cities.
Tacos have been a beloved part of traditional Mexican cuisine for years, and continue to be enjoyed by people all over the world.
Thanks to the wide range of recipes available, there arguably is a taco for every taste preference, from sweet potato tacos, lentil tacos, Hawaiian shrimp tacos, caramelized pork, teriyaki chicken, breakfast tacos, and everything in between.
Even the pickiest of eaters can enjoy what tacos have to offer.
The taco is a symbol of versatility and convenience and has the ability to bring people together over a delicious and satisfying meal.
Taco bar stations and buffets are common at graduation parties, holiday parties, tailgates, showers and other occasions.
So, while Taco Tuesday is an enjoyable outing, it’s also fun to make them at home, too.
Check out the recipe accompanying this column and give it a try.
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County. Pasco County Extension Intern, Syreeta McDonald, contributed to this column.
Soft chicken tacos
Courtesy of MyPlate.gov
- 2 chicken breasts, thawed, skin and bone removed from each piece
- 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2/3 Tablespoon taco seasoning or chili powder (optional)
- 1 green pepper, sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 4 soft tortillas, 6-inch size
- 1/4 head Romaine lettuce, sliced thin
- 1/4 cup tomatoes, diced
- 4 teaspoons fresh tomato salsa
- 1 Tablespoon parsley or cilantro, chopped (optional)
- In a large bowl, mix chicken, vegetable oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
- If using taco seasoning or chili powder, add them, too.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- While the chicken is in the refrigerator, cook the pepper and onion, on stovetop, over medium heat until done (about 12 minutes).
- Cook the chicken over medium heat. Cook each side about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Place chicken on a plate. Let it cool for 5 minutes. Cut the chicken into strips.
Making the tacos
Put chicken on the tortilla first. Add peppers and onion strips next. Top with lettuce, tomato and salsa. If using parsley or cilantro, add that, too.
Published October 18, 2023