The history of the taco

posted by Aaron Cohen May 17, 2012

In this Smithsonian interview, University of Minnesota history professor Jeffrey Pilcher drops serious knowledge on the history of tacos. Among other bits of taco trivia, Pilcher, author of the forthcoming book Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, roughly disabuses us of the lie spread by Glen Bell (of Taco Bell) that Bell invented the hard shell.

What made the fast-food taco possible? The fast-food taco is a product of something called the "taco shell," a tortilla that has been pre-fried into that characteristic U-shape. If you read Glen Bell's authorized biography, he says he invented the taco shell in the 1950s, and that it was his technological breakthrough. Mexicans were cooking tacos to order — fresh — and Glen Bell, by making then ahead, was able to serve them faster. But when I went into the U.S. patent office records, I found the original patents for making taco shells were awarded in the 1940s to Mexican restaurateurs, not to Glen Bell.

Pilcher's other books include editing The Oxford Handbook of Food History, and writing The Sausage Rebellion: Public Health, Private Enterprise, and Meat in Mexico City, 1890-1917 and Que vivan los tamales! Food and the Making of Mexican Identity. The Sausage Rebellion indeed.