You Probably Don't Know Where American-Style Tacos Came From

American tacos are your typical taco night fare – they're known for having hard, crispy shells, and are usually filled with ground beef and piled high with toppings like lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese. However, they're nothing like authentic Mexican tacos, which use corn tortillas and have much simpler toppings, usually just fresh cilantro and white onion, according to Food and Wine. So since American-style tacos are almost completely different, how did they evolve and where did they come from?

While the two definitely aren't the same, Mexican cuisine still had a strong influence on American tacos. History professor Jeffrey Pilcher told Smithsonian Magazine that the earliest mention of tacos he could uncover appeared in a 1905 newspaper. Immigrants from Mexico were coming to the U.S. and establishing themselves, and tacos and other Mexican foods were starting to increase in popularity as street foods. Part of the change in ingredients came from what was available in the U.S. compared to what ingredients were available in Mexico – that's partly how hamburger meat replaced organ meat in American tacos, and lettuce, tomato, and cheese became toppings. While taco fillings and toppings evolved from what was already available and popular in the U.S., it's a little harder to pin down exactly where the hard shells that American tacos are known for came from.

Where did the hard shells come from?

According to Mel Magazine, there isn't an individual inventor of hard shell tacos. In the U.S., the first recipe published in English for tacos was in The L.A. Times and calls for a hard shell. And according to Twisted Taco, the fried, hard shell tacos most people know and love first came about in the 1940s and were patented by Mexicans to speed up the process of making taco shells.

However, while immigrants from Mexico can claim creation rights for the hard shell, Taco Bell is what made them popular across the country. According to professor Jeffrey Pilcher, Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, learned everything he knew about tacos from Mexican immigrants. The original patents for hard taco shells were given to Mexican restaurants in the 1940s, but Bell tried to claim he invented them and patent the process in the 1950s. The hard shells were key to popularizing American-style tacos and turning them into fast food because they keep much longer than corn tortillas, which makes it much easier to cook a big batch and have them ready to fill to order.

While American-style tacos were born from Mexican-American fusion, today, authentic Mexican tacos are definitely gaining popularity in the U.S. Now, it's a lot more common to find Mexican restaurants using traditional ingredients instead of American ones. While American-style tacos still have their place in our hearts, they definitely weren't a strictly American creation.