The Real History Of The Taco, In Case Tucker Carlson Forgot

The Fox News host said tacos are “American food.” Here’s where the Mexican favorite actually comes from.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson said of tacos, “It’s American food.”
HuffPost / Getty Images
Fox News host Tucker Carlson said of tacos, “It’s American food.”

Things got strange when Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson claimed that tacos are ... American.

In a bizarre interaction with Univision reporter Enrique Acevedo, Carlson ranted that tacos are an American food. Regardless of whether Carlson’s comments were meant as satire, there can really be no doubt that tacos are Mexican in origin.

As Forbes pointed out, “Corn’s prominence reaches far back into the history of Meso-America, when this region was farmed by Toltec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations.” So basically, the corn tortilla is older than Mexico itself. Corn originated and was first cultivated there by indigenous peoples who believed it to be part of the human creation myth, and many regional cultures believed that they were born millennia ago from corn (as seen in ancient murals in Tlaxcala in Mexico that depict people as ears of corn).

It’s believed that the Aztecs invented tortillas and that the great Aztec emperor Montezuma used them like spoons for eating meat, beans and chiles. The process of tortilla making involves grinding corn kernels on a stone called a metate and adding quicklime to the ground corn (a process known as nixtamalization) to create a dough called masa.

According to Alejandro Escalante, author of La Tacopedia, an encyclopedia of tacos, “Around the year 400, masa and the comal (griddle) were common things in Mesoamerica. Tortillas have been made since then, and therefore tacos are the natural food of the Mexican people.”

According to Lesley Téllez, the author of Eat Mexico (and the owner of a culinary tour company by the same name), eating tacos is so popular that a verb exists in Spanish meaning to eat tacos or fill a tortilla with the food on one’s plate so utensils aren’t needed: taquear.

Ricardo Rodriguez Saavedra, the owner of De la Chinampa a Tu Mesa, which supplies Mexico City’s upscale restaurants with organic produce, believes tacos are the backbone of Mexican cuisine. He told HuffPost, “Tacos are the most important food in Mexico City and across the country. You find tortillas in every house and every restaurant, and a taco is filled with whatever you want to put in it.”

Jeffery Pilcher, who wrote about the history of tacos in Smithsonian, argued that the taco has its roots in 18th-century Mexican mining towns. But Ruth Alegria, the owner of Alegria in Mexico, which offers custom culinary tours, told HuffPost, “The use of fresh corn tortillas to envelop prepared foods is nothing but centuries- if not millennia-old food of Mexico.”

Alegria pointed out that the idea of a taco is different for many Americans, who think of a hard shell filled with ground beef, lettuce and cheddar cheese, while Mexicans think of a fresh, handmade tortilla filled with seasoned meat and topped in salsa, white onion, cilantro and lime.

Téllez said that much of the U.S. Southwest, from Texas to California, used to be part of Mexico.

“When people moved to areas where the ingredients from home weren’t available, the recipes changed according to the region. Many people in that area stayed even after it became part of the United States,” she said.

She added that in the U.S., we’ve developed our own taco culture with endless variations but that in origin, the taco is distinctly Mexican.

“It’s deeply entrenched in the food culture and symbolic of the way people eat in Mexico,” Téllez said.

Did you hear that, Tucker Carlson?

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