The Difference between Traditional Mexican vs Tex-Mex

March 24, 2018 • By Benjamin Wilson
The estimated reading time is 3 minutes

If you’ve had Tex-Mex recently, you’d know it. An American staple, the blend of Mexican concepts with American ingredients has exploded in recent years throughout the world.

Surprisingly, most Americans just refer to Tex-Mex as traditional Mexican, when almost nothing can be further from the truth.

Here’s the story:


The tale of these two brothers is long and tasty.

When American settlers first expanded westward, they encountered already-present Mexican villages. Over time, the gringos quickly became enamored with Mexican food. Of course, it looked nothing back then than what you might think it looks like today.

The area around the Rio Grande quickly bore great influence over what these settlers were already eating – mostly bread, beef, and stew. Mexicans utilized tortillas and other kinds of meats, and nachos.

Early in the 1900s, many Mexican restaurants in Texas soon began to incorporate American staples into their Mexican cuisine, like beef and cheese for tacos and enchiladas. The result was an entirely new type of culinary masterpiece – Tex-Mex.

Of course, the term Tex-Mex was not used until the 1940s but quickly caught like wildfire afterward. By the 1970s, Tex-Mex restaurants were a staple in every major American city.

Where the Differences Come In

If you’ve had a burrito recently, that would be Tex-Mex. Nachos? They are mostly Mexican, with a hint of Texas. And, of course, chili con carne – that’s all-American, and Mexicans would probably look at you funny if you asked for it south of the border.

To put it simply, Tex-Mex is anything that uses these ingredients:

  • Beef
  • Yellow Cheese
  • Wheat Flour
  • Black Beans
  • Any Canned Fruits or Veggies
  • Cumin

I know, even cumin. Most people think it’s a Mexican necessity. The main ingredient in any taco spice pack. But no, it’s Indian, and it was used in American food way before it arrived on that enchilada.

Overall, the chances of what you’re eating being Tex-Mex are extremely high if the dish includes any of those ingredients. Especially with beef, since it was the premier choice for Texas ranchers at the time. The beef was unheard of in Mexico, except for in the most Northern parts.

Then, there are the tortillas. Wheat-based tortillas are exclusively American, whereas corn-based tortillas (like hard taco shells) are the Mexican variant. That’s why foods like burritos, enchiladas, and soft-shell tacos are almost always Tex-Mex.

Mexican food is also extremely diverse. To prove my point, just look at a map. Mexico is a big country, with many different biomes. Some of it is tropical, other parts of it mountainous and some are deserts or even dense rainforests. That means that there are a lot of different types of food throughout the country. It ranges from seafood to protein-heavy dishes and extremely busy plates as well with ingredients that take a lot of time to prepare.

What’s American is nacho cheese, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas and even delicious fajitas. Most “Mexican” restaurants in the States offer most if not all of these options, but that doesn’t make it Mexican. Of course, it doesn’t also mean that it isn’t all delicious.

Also, next time when you were looking for a Tex-Mex restaurant or just looking for things to do in The Colony TX, checkout URBAN8 and be ready for surprises.

Benjamin Wilson

He is a fitness trainer and part-time blogger interested in nutrition and in leading a healthy lifestyle. He writes smart and inspirational articles on nutrition supported by scientific research and his own personal experience in the healthcare industry.
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