We've all been there: Your family needs a quick meal on the table, and you succumb to the allure and promise of a quick dinner from the brightly colored packet of taco seasoning. Pretty much everyone knows the drill: Brown the meat, breaking it up as you go, sprinkle the taco seasoning over it, and add a specific amount of water, simmering and stirring until thickened. As the water evaporates away, you wonder, hey, what does that water really do, and is it necessary? Turns out it's essential for giving the proper consistency to the taco meat because those seasoning mixes contain cornstarch, which requires water and heat to create a sauce.
What you're doing when you add water is helping the cornstarch create a smooth sauce flavored with the spices. The heat then activates the cornstarch, thickening the mixture. Without it, the meat would be very dry and crumbly, and it could spill out of your taco shell instead of holding together, an issue you've probably noticed if you make your own taco seasoning blend.
Read more: The Best Fusion Tacos In The US
How Cornstarch Thickens Sauces
While either cornstarch or flour can be used to thicken a mixture, cornstarch is the popular thickening agent when creating smooth, translucent sauces. Flour-thickened sauces tend to be opaque, like gravies. It also doesn't take as much cornstarch to thicken a sauce, making it ideal for including in a taco mix packet. The amount of flour needed would make the packet unwieldy. However, because cornstarch needs to be dissolved in liquid, you have to add water when cooking. Luckily, cornstarch is a forgiving substance that dissolves relatively easily, though you must not skip the cooking step because it needs high heat, just below boiling, to thicken.
Some taco mixes contain modified corn starch, which is not a genetically modified ingredient. Modified starches have the same effect as traditional starches, but they work faster. They can thicken quicker and are often used in sauces that need a specific temperature to thicken or are considered instant. This means there is less user error with a modified starch.
How To Make Your Own Taco Seasoning
If you've ever made your own taco seasoning mix from your stash of cabinet spices, you might have noticed that the resulting cooked meat is less cohesive. This is because most recipes do not include the addition of cornstarch. Now, you can create your own blends with a mixture of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and other spices -- depending on the flavor you are looking for and what region you want to emulate. Once you have the flavor you want, add some cornstarch to the blend of spices. Just be aware that a little cornstarch goes a long way. A typical 12-serving taco seasoning mix recipe uses about 1 ½ tablespoons of cornstarch.
If you want to skip the cornstarch in your homemade seasoning to use it for other purposes, just sprinkle ⅓ to ½ teaspoon of cornstarch per pound of browned, spiced meat before adding ¾ cup of water and heat until thickened.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.