The Surprising Ingredient In Taco Bell's Beef

At one point in time, some pretty unsavory rumors about the ingredients in Taco Bell's seasoned beef were making the rounds. From worms to non-existent "Grade D" beef to horse meat, Taco Bell heard it all. In 2011, Alabama law firm Beasley Alan tried to call Taco Bell out big time, launching a lawsuit that alleged their beef was only 35 percent meat and, as such, didn't qualify to be labeled as beef under USDA standards (via NPR). Taco Bell clapped back, listing all of the ingredients in their so-called mystery meat, thus revealing that the product is actually 88 percent beef. The lawsuit was dropped and taco-lovers everywhere could once again sleep at night.

Later, through subsequent efforts at damage control, Taco Bell made sure to give user-friendly definitions of the ingredients that make up the other 12 percent of their beef. They explained, for example, that modified corn starch is a thickener made from corn and it's used in small amounts to maintain moisture (via First We Feast). But there's one ingredient in Taco Bell's beef that still has us scratching our heads and possibly reevaluating the way we prepare our tacos at home – cocoa powder.

Cocoa powder gives Taco Bell's beef color

At first glance, you might think cocoa powder is added to Taco Bell's beef for flavor. After all, isn't cocoa powder in savory chilis and sauces a thing? Well, according to ABC News, the explanation on Taco Bell's website stated, "Cocoa Powder doesn't add any flavor to our recipe, but it helps our seasoned beef maintain a rich color." So no, the cocoa powder is not there to add any bittersweet, chocolatey essence to the meat but it does evidently make it more appealing to look at. And, as we know, we eat with our eyes first. 

But, a Reddit user trying to mimic Taco Bell's seasoning found that the addition of cocoa powder not only enhanced the color of their taco meat but added some complexity as well. It's worth a shot. As Spiceography points out, cocoa powder as an ingredient in mole brings out smoky notes in the Mexican sauce and serves as an excellent complement to beef.

Now Taco Bell's menu just says cocoa

Today, Taco Bell's ingredients list for their seasoned beef contains "cocoa" rather than "cocoa powder" as it did in 2011. Eat This, Not That reported that the change occurred when Taco Bell revamped its menu in 2017, eliminating some unnecessary additives. The menu clean-up came as part of Taco Bell's initiative to provide more choices with simpler ingredients and fewer artificial preservatives and additives. 

However, according to Leaf TV, cocoa powder contains no additives; its only ingredient is pure cocoa. Also, Britannica defines cocoa as a "highly concentrated powder" made from cocoa beans. So, it sounds like the same thing to us. Perhaps Taco Bell did switch up the type of cocoa in their recipe or perhaps it's just semantics. Either way, we're perfectly happy to continue chowing down on Taco Bell's cocoa-seasoned beef and may even give it a try in our home kitchens as well.