Flour, Cumin, Cheese, Chili and Beef: How to Spot the Difference Between Mexican and Tex-Mex

As someone who enjoys eating out often, it is likely that you usually frequent eateries that you may refer to as Mexican. However, in most parts of the United States, what you’re enjoying is Tex-Mex. Ooey gooey cheesy Tex-Mex is a beautiful thing, but it is a distinct style of cuisine that differs significantly from traditional Mexican food.

The History of Tex-Mex

The term Tex-Mex appeared first in the 1940s, but the cuisine itself has roots in 19th century San Antonio. While many versions of meat stew have been around since people first learned how to cook, the backbone of Tex-Mex—chili con carne—arose during the 1800s. Chili stands were prevalent in many Texas cities, including Houston and Galveston, but San Antonio made chili con carne the staple of Tex-Mex.

Chili is the staple ingredient of most Tex-Mex dishes if you look closely. Since early Texans used readily available ingredients, chili is beef-based. Similar to chili, other Tex-Mex dishes combined common Texas ingredients with south-of-the-border influences to create something brand new, and might we say, delicious.

So What’s the Difference?

Though many people use the term Mexican and Tex-Mex interchangeably, the difference between the two styles of food comes down to four key ingredients.

#1 Cheese

As a Tex-Mex lover, you know that this style of food is all about cheese. From queso dip to the smothering power of yellow cheese, Tex-Mex offers not only cheese-infused dishes but another side of cheese for you to dip things in. In Mexican food, however, cheese is rarely a main ingredient.

Furthermore, queso (invented in Arkansas in 1935) isn’t typically found on a traditional Mexican menu. If you see it on Mexican menus in the United States, it is likely because customers are upset when the queso isn’t offered.

#2 Cumin

Along with chili peppers, cumin is the seasoning most people tend to reach when making “Mexican” food. However, cumin is not a traditional Mexican spice. Cumin was introduced to chili con carne in San Antonio and was another staple used to set the cuisine apart from the food found south of the border.

#3 Flour

Corn is the typical ingredient for Mexican tortillas. Once the tortilla migrated north, Texans began using flour to make tortillas.

However, corn tortillas are no stranger to Tex-Mex cuisine. The prevalence of hard corn taco shells is strictly Tex-Mex, as Mexican tacos use soft corn shells exclusively.

#4 Beef

Mexican dishes often use pork, chicken, or seafood. But beef fajitas, tacos, and chili are all Tex-Mex dishes. Because Texas is a heavy cattle region, beef is cheaper and easier to get, which is why you can find beef as the main meat of Tex-Mex menus.

So it makes sense that cumin-spiced ground beef in a hard shell taco covered in cheese is one of the most famous Tex-Mex dishes of all.

Celebrating Tex-Mex Cuisine at Guadalajara

While Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines differ, fortunately for us, there is room in the restaurant industry for both.

At Guadalajara Restaurant, Tex-Mex is our specialty. Our menu has something delicious for everyone from cheesy enchiladas to Guadalupe Lime Beef fajitas. We will always be happy to serve you with the best and freshest Tex-Mex ingredients around. Visit guad.com to learn more about how we do Tex-Mex.