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The History of the Taco

Posted by Josh Rothman  May 24, 2012 08:16 AM

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Everybody loves tacos -- but where did they come from, other than “Mexico”? In Smithsonian magazine, Katy June Friesen talks with Jeffrey Pilcher, a historian at the University of Minnesota who has studied Mexican food for two decades, and whose new book, “Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food,” is coming out this summer.

Nobody knows exactly where the taco originated, Pilcher says, although it’s clear that Glen Bell (of Taco Bell) didn’t invent it, as he sometimes claimed. “My theory is that it dates from the 18th century and the silver mines in Mexico, because in those mines the word ‘taco’ referred to the little charges they would use to excavate the ore. These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face.” From there, Pilcher says, you’re just a metaphor away from a taco filled with spicy chicken. “And one of the first types of tacos described is called tacos de minero -- miner’s tacos.”

In the 20th century, the taco’s popularity grew, in part because so many Mexican Americans fought in World War Two; tacos now incorporate distinctly non-Mexican ingredients, like hamburger and cheddar cheese. More at Smithsonian.

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