Taco meat is a relatively simple dish and may seem foolproof, but there are ways that you can ruin it. The seasonings you use play a crucial role. If you want an authentic and balanced flavor profile, you will need the right ingredients. Here are some suggestions for the best spices and herbs to use in your taco meat.
Cumin is arguably the most important spice in your taco meat after salt because of how much it is used in Latin American and Tex-Mex cooking. For most people who enjoy tacos, your taco meat literally will not taste like taco meat unless cumin is at the forefront of the flavor profile. Cumin gives your taco meat a warm earthiness and mild bitterness that complements other savory flavors in the dish.
Garlic’s pungent sulfurous quality is the perfect way to round out any meat dish or meat component in a dish and taco meat is no exception. Fresh garlic is best and it should be added at the start of cooking so that it can mellow out and be infused into the meat. Garlic pairs well with all of the other seasonings that are commonly used to flavor taco meat.
Like garlic, onion is an allium and it adds a sharp umami quality to your taco meat. You have the option of getting a more intense onion note if you use green onions or you can add white onions at the end of cooking. While it is sometimes convenient to use onion powder in taco meat, fresh onions are always best. Add green onions at the start of cooking so that they can sweeten and flavor the meat; you will get better results adding white onions toward the end of the cooking time.
Chili powder contains many of the best seasonings for taco meat and can be a shortcut for getting many of the spices in this list. Among the spices typically included in the typical chili powder blend are cumin, chili pepper, and oregano. The chili pepper that commonly shows up in chili powder will usually be of the ancho variety. Garlic may be included in some blends.
For many people, taco meat does not taste authentic without a little heat. Specifically, you want the spark that comes from chili peppers. Cayenne pepper powder is the most convenient way to get this heat. It is easy to measure and offers a consistent, modest heat that is not likely to result in an overly spicy taco.
The oregano used in true Mexican dishes is different from the variety that you might find in an Italian pasta sauce, which is Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano is a relative of lemon verbena; Mediterranean oregano is a relative of the mint plant. While both can be used in taco meat, tacos are a Mexican dish. This means that Mexican oregano will provide the authentic flavor of true Mexican tacos and will pair perfectly with all of the seasonings that go into true Mexican-style tacos.
If you want the red color of chili peppers without the heat, you can use a plain paprika. Plain paprika may also be known as domestic paprika. This type of paprika differs from the Spanish and Hungarian varieties that contain high levels of capsaicin, which is the chemical in chili peppers that makes them hot.
Taco meat often has a red color. The color comes in part from the chili pepper it contains, but it can also come from tomatoes. Tomato powder is a great way to add a little of the fruity acidity of tomato without the moisture that you would get if you were to add fresh or canned tomatoes. It will also provide the bright red color.