What's the Difference? Tex-Mex vs. Mexican

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Tex-Mex food has been a topic of conversation around my office quite a bit lately. What's the difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican foods?

This question could produce heated debate in some areas of the country, but it seems that most sources agree on a few key points. The term "Tex-Mex" has been around for a while, but it really gained popularity in the 1970s, when Diana Kennedy published The Cuisines of Mexico (now available in a reprint combining two of her earlier books) and tried to show tortilla-chip-loving Americans a more full range of Mexican dishes. Tex-Mex was used to refer to the many Mexican restaurants all over Texas serving Americanized versions of Mexican food.

So what does distinguish Tex-Mex from Mexican food? This is a more difficult question, and it's usually answered by looking at ingredients used in Tex-Mex that are less common in more authentic Mexican food. Cumin, for instance, is not used nearly so widely in Mexico as in Tex-Mex. Meat is more common in Tex-Mex too. Maybe the largest factor is starch - the abundance of nachos, tacos, and tortilla wraps are simply not as common in Mexican cuisine as Tex-Mex may lead you to believe.

Both styles have their advocates, of course - although it's worth noting that even Tex-Mex fans disavow Taco Bell.

Mexican and Tex-Mex food at the Food Timeline

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.