When you’re trying to live a clean, healthy and/or organic lifestyle, usually you start off by cutting out the obvious no no’s like cookies, chips, and other junk foods (at least, I know I did). But as you learn more and more about your food and where it comes from, you’re going to become more picky about the foods and even the food brands you choose.
I wrote one of my first posts and longggg time about about making a taco salad that was a healthy alternative to Chipotle. Sure, the post is good. But I was still making some food mistakes that I wouldn’t even dream of doing today. In other words, I was still using a processed ingredient that most people don’t even think about when they’re making Mexican or Latin-inspired food: taco seasoning.
Why IS Taco Seasoning So Bad?
So let me just make one quick disclaimer before I get to the bad news about taco seasoning. Will taco seasoning kill you? Probably not. In the grand scheme of things, taco seasoning is a drop in the bucket of processed and unhealthy foods. But if you’re like me and cleaning up your diet, over time you want to avoid as many additives and preservatives as possible. Sure, they’re safe for now. But no one really knows the long-term effects of these foods, and in my eyes that’s the argument that wins every time.
The taco seasoning you loved as a kid might taste all fine and dandy, but it’s definitely got some hidden ingredients in it:
- MSG—We’ve talked before about how dangerous this chemical is and how you don’t need to worry about it only when ordering Chinese take out. MSG adds a savory or umami flavor to a lot of foods. It has also been linked to hunger and obesity by stimulating the part of your brain that stores food as fat instead of as fuel you’re body can readily use.
I did a little research on Old El Paso’s taco seasoning, which is one of the top brands in the market. First off, when I wanted to read the nutritional information on the site, the link I clicked on brought me here. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but to me it looks really sketchy when I can’t figure out the ingredients for a simple spice mix. Why is Old El Paso hiding this from me and other consumers who want to know more about their product?
When I finally did find an online ingredients list, it still wasn’t even for the plain taco mix. I came about it when looking at all their taco and burrito dinner kits. Of course, I could just go to the store and buy their product or read the ingredients label at the grocery store. But in a world fraught with technology, the internet, and an overall digital culture, there’s no reason their site shouldn’t have the same information.
- Citric Acid—This is a preservative used in many food products to prevent mold and other forms of spoilage. It also adds a sour note similar to lemon, lime, and other citrus foods. McCormick’s taco seasoning uses this ingredient, and while I’m not happy about it, at least they’re honest. Citric acid is just another preservative you don’t need to expose yourself to. Skip the artificial ingredients and simply make your own seasoning!
- Other Hidden, But Common Allergens—Often these seasonings and mixes will contain gluten, milk, refined oils, and other ingredients you wouldn’t normally think of in spice mixes. One of my favorite organic guacamole mixes actually has milk in it. If you have moderate to severe or even just mild allergies, it’s best to avoid these products and make your own seasonings instead.
I’ve seen DIY taco seasonings before that make GIANT batches, then store these mixes in mason jars until it’s time for use. But what if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time for a few cups of seasoning and need something quick? This DIY taco seasoning is super easy in that you probably have most of these ingredients on hand. I literally improvised this one night when I was browning turkey for tacos and it tasted exactly like the taco seasoning I loved as a kid.
Also remember you can use this mix for other Latin-inspired dishes. Whether it’s ground turkey, ground beef, poultry, or even rice/beans, this seasoning mix is my go-to for Latin dishes.