What is Tex-Mex and What Makes it Different Than Mexican Food?

There is no cuisine in the world that is quite like Tex-Mex cooking. Many foods that we have come to think of as “Mexican” are actually American dishes styled after popular Mexican ones. Just as every recipe can be adjusted to incorporate different ingredients and flavors, the same can be stated for Mexican meals in the United States


It’s easy to find Tex-Mex cuisine at almost any Henderson Mexican Restaurant, but just what is Tex-Mex Cooking? Keep reading to find out more about the origins of this unique marriage of cultures and flavors.

The Origins of Tex-Mex

Tex-Mex food, as we know it today, is a relatively recent invention. Back when America was still young, Anglo-American settlers moved westward into what is now Texas.. As they spread westward, they came across Mexican cultures each with their own traditional styles of cooking.


As more and more people settled in Texas, the popularity of Mexican food grew and grew. These styles would later come to be emulated in homestyle southwestern cooking, and as you can probably imagine, the Americanized versions of these cuisines added their very own unique twists and tweaks to the traditional dishes.


It wasn’t long before restaurants and food vendors decided to get in on the action, catering to the Texan’s palates in an effort to cash in on the  increasingly growing demand for Mexican style dishes. This would also help to expand the popularity of these unique cuisines across the United States. This inevitably helped Tex-Mex cooking to thrive, and almost overnight “Mexican” delicacies became popular fixtures in American food culture.

The differences between Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican Dishes

The Term tex mex was coined some time during the 1940s, however it wouldn’t be until the 70’s that food writers and critics began inspecting the subtle differences and variation  between traditional Mexican dishes and their Mexican-American counterparts. One food writer in particular, Diana Kennedy exposed it to a national audience in the cookbook entitled The Cuisines of Mexico that drew a line in the sand between the foods found North of the Border and the real thing.


Essentially, the assertion was that most Mexican food in America was technically of Tex-Mex origin, but what’s the difference? Prior to this time, many people didn’t realize that the “Mexican” dishes they were consuming we’re not quite authentic Mexican fare.


When Texan settlers began to adopt the recipes of their mexican neighbors, something got lost in translation, or so its seems. Possibly due to the availability of ingredients on hand or even simply due to preference, settlers began to add and substitute quintessentially Texan ingredients in mexican recipes. The addition of ingredients that were not very widespread or popular in Mexican cooking at the time, like ground beef and wheat flour, helped to diversify a variety of recipes and paved the way for the advent of Tex-Mex as we know it today.

How Can I Tell if it’s Tex-Mex?

Burritos? Tex-Mex. Nachos? Mexican, with a healthy dose of Texican. Chili con carne has gotta be authentic right? Wrong.


The differences between Mexican and Tex-Mex food can be summed up in the use of a few key ingredients found in the US that are scarcely used anywhere South of the Rio Grande. These ingredients include:



  • Ground Beef


    • Yellow Cheese (like cheddar and colby longhorn)


  • Wheat Flour Tortillas


    • Black Beans
    • Canned Vegetables (tomatoes and chiles in particular)


  • Cumin and other Old World Spices



It’s a fair bet that, if you’re eating anything with one or more of those ingredients, it’s probably Tex-Mex. Beef has long been the the meat of choice for Texan ranchers back in the day, and continues to maintain popularity even today, but it’s hardly used in Mexican cuisine outside of the extreme Northern reaches of the country.


Spices like cumin and black peppercorn were imported to the US and England from India and the Middle East. While they have been slowly incorporated into dishes in Mexico, the US was quicker to adopt these ingredients into recipes.


Furthermore it’s really no secret that “gringos” love wheat, and pretty much any burrito you’ll find up here is wrapped in a wheat tortilla rather than the more substantial maize-based tortillas found south of the border.



When it comes to choosing between authentic mexican fare and Tex-Mex cooking, there are no right or wrong decisions. Both of these unique cuisines are full of history, flavor, and nourishment. While you may be partial to one or the other, there’s no harm in enjoying both. What is your favorite Tex-Mex or Mexican dish? Leave us a comment in the section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *