The origins of tacos

Although it is known that the first tacos were served up at some point in the 18th century, nobody knows for sure who first invented the taco.

The name “taco” actually has quite a colourful history, as it’s believed it referred to dynamite used in mines.  According to Mexican foodie and also a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Jeffrey M. Pilcher, tacos first appeared in the silver mines of Mexico. The gunpowder in dynamite was wrapped tightly in paper, much like a modern-day taco’s ingredients are wrapped in a tortilla.  

But most people agree that the term was probably adopted as a reference to the Aztecs who ate tacos filled with small fish, back when they ruled what is now Mexico and it predates the arrival of the Spanish to the land.

It is said that Moctezuma, Aztec emperor of Mexico, famous for his dramatic confrontation with the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, used the tortilla as a “spoon” to hold the food, which was prepared on hot stones and decorated with cochineal – a scarlet dye used for colouring food-, beans and chilli.

Although there is not a single attestation in the written record and it might be simply fanciful folk etymology, it is also said that taco derives from the word ‘tlahco’ in the language of the Aztec and Toltec civilizations, which means “half or in the middle”, referring to the way it is formed.

Despite the origins of the taco are unknown, it has become the symbol of Mexico’s cuisine characterized by endless styles, flavours, and colours, so extensive and multifaceted that it has been named as an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. 

Don’t you fancy some tacos now?

MB for FatFeedsUKDisclosures

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