The Cilantro Taco Rule Aarón Sánchez Says You Shouldn't Break

Tacos have certainly evolved over time ... or rather, our perception of them may be what has evolved. In their native Mexico, tacos may always have consisted of any kind of filling imaginable wrapped in a soft corn tortilla, but it's only been in recent years that we've come to embrace this idea of the taco. Back in the olden days, when Taco Bell, Chi-Chi's, and Old El Paso were setting our taco standards, we expected any and all tacos to come with a ground beef filling (maybe ground turkey, if you were on a low-fat health kick) and the shells were always crunchy. (Fun fact: Taco Bell's founder invented those hard, pre-formed shells.) As for toppings, "taco sauce" and shredded cheese were de rigueur, with shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and sour cream being add-on options.

Chef Aarón Sánchez knows a thing or two about tacos of the non-Taco Bell kind. He's the part-owner of upscale taqueria Johnny Sánchez, now open in Baltimore as well as New Orleans (via Food Network), and his current gig is on a show called "Taco Time," where he travels around the country sampling regional versions of this dish. He recently shared his top taco tips with Food & Wine, and one of them involves a certain garnish that isn't there just to look pretty. According to Sanchez, cilantro has a lot of flavor potential that's so often being wasted.

Don't throw out the cilantro stems

There's a good chance that the cilantro on your latest hipster street taco was really just there for show. Any recipe that calls for simply snipping off the leaves and scattering them over the top of a taco (or any other dish) is a recipe that's probably been designed for Instagram. The cilantro stems, after all, are so much more flavorful! As Aarón Sánchez tells Food & Wine, "When I see people not using the stems, that's what I call a gringo move."

Sánchez likes to garnish tacos with a whole cilantro sprig complete with stem, something that is equally photogenic and takes a lot less time than going through the trouble of separating out and discarding the stems. What's more, it's also easier for cilantro haters to remove that whole spring, while cilantro lovers can simply eat the whole thing and enjoy a serious hit of fresh green flavor. If you're making salsa or guacamole with cilantro, go ahead and chop up the stems and use those, too.