When were tacos first made?
In northern Mexico and much of the United States, tortilla means
the flour version. Flour tortillas are the foundation of Mexican
border cooking and a relatively recent import. Their popularity was
driven by the low cost of inferior grades of flour provided to
border markets and by their ability to keep and ship well.
3000 B.C. - Excavations in the valley of "Valle de Tehuacán", in
the state of Puebla, revealed the use, for more than seven thousand
years, of the basic cereal by excellence of the Mesoamerican diet,
a little wild cob that along with roots and fruit was a complement
for hunting. According to Agustín Gaytán, chef and Mexican cuisine
historian, in a Greeley Tribune newspaper article:
Sometime about 3000 B.C., people of the Sierra Madre mountains
in Mexico hybridized wild grasses to produce large, nutritious
kernels we know as corn. Mexican anthropologist and maize historian
Arturo Warman credits the development of corn with the rise of
Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs, which
were advanced in art, architecture, math and astronomy. The
significance of corn was not lost on indigenous cultures that
viewed it as a foundation of humanity. It is revered as the seed of
life. According to legend, human beings were made of corn by the
By the time Spaniards reached the shores of what is now Mexico
in the 1400s, indigenous Mesoamericans had a sophisticated and
flavorful cuisine based on native fruits, game, cultivated beans
and corn and domesticated turkeys.
1519 - When Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), also known as Hernando
Cortez, and his conquistadores arrived in the New World on April
22, 1519, they discovered that the inhabitants (Aztecs Mexicas)
made flat corn breads. The native Nahuatl name for these was
tlaxcalli. The Spanish gave them the name tortilla. In Cortés' 1920
second letter to King Charles V of Spain, he describes the public
markets and the selling of maize or Indian corn:
This city has many public squares, in which are situated the
markets and other places for buying and selling. . . where are
daily assembled more than sixty thousand souls, engaged in buying
and selling; and where are found all kinds of merchandise that the
world affords, embracing the necessaries of life, as for instance
articles of food. . . maize or Indian corn, in the grain and in the
form of bread, preferred in the grain for its flavor to that of the
other islands and terra-firma.
1529 - In the monumental manuscript books, General History of
the Things of New Spain (Historia general de las cosas de Nueva
Espana), by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun (1450-1590),
it is known that the Aztec diet was based on corn and tortillas,
tamales and plenty of chilies in many varieties. Considered one of
the fathers of culinary history. He compiled and translated
testimonies of his culinary informants from the native language
Nahuatl into Spanish. His work is the most complete record of Aztec
foods and eating habits.
Sahagun was sent to New Spain (Mexico) to compile, in the Aztec
language, a compendium of all things relating to the native history
and custom that might be useful in the labor of Christianizing the
Indians. The work thus undertaken occupied some seven years, in
collaboration with the best native authorities, and was expanded
into a history and description of the Aztec people and civilization
in twelve manuscript books, together with a grammar (Arte)
and dictionary of the language.
1940s - In the 1940s and '50s, one of the first widespread uses
of small scale gas engines and electric motors was to power wet
grain grinders for making masa. A hand press or hand patting
were used to form the masa into tortillas.
1960s - Early tortillas took hours to make but by the 1960s,
small-scale tortilla-making machines could churn out hot, steaming
tortillas every two seconds.
1520 -Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1496-1584), a Spanish soldier
who came with Hernán Cortés to the New World, wrote an intriguing
and detailed chronicles called A True History of the Conquest of
New Spain. He also chronicled the lavish feasts that were held.
From the article by Sophie Avernin called Tackling the taco: A
guide to the art of taco eating:
The first "taco bash" in the history of New Spain was documented
by none other than Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Hernan Cortes
organized this memorable banquet in Coyoacan for his captains, with
pigs brought all the way from Cuba. It would, however, be a mistake
to think that Cortes invented the taco, since anthropologists have
discovered evidence that inhabitants of the lake region of the
Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish, such as
acosiles and charales. The fish were replaced by
small live insects and ants in the states of Morelos and Guerrero,
while locusts and snails were favorite fillings in Puebla and
1914 - The first-known English-language taco recipes appeared in
California cookbooks beginning in 1914. Bertha Haffner-Ginger, in
her cookbook California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book said tacos
"made by putting chopped cooked beef and chili sauce in a
tortilla made of meal and flour; folded, edges sealed together with
egg; fried in deep fat, Chile sauce served over it."
1929 - Pauline Wiley-Kleemann in here cookbook Ramona's
Spanish-Mexican Cookery, featured six taco and tacquito recipes.
These included recipes for Gorditos that came from Santa Nita or
Xochimilco, Pork Tacos composed of snout, ears, jowls, kidneys, and
liver, Cream Cheese Tacos, Egg Tacos, Mexican Tacos, and
Taqueria or taco trucks are found throught the West and
Southwest of the United States. There are two kinds of taco trucks;
traveling trucks that cruise around neighborhoods and business
areas, and non-cruising trucks parked permanently in lots.