I personally taste-tested a variety of taco seasoning substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for taco seasoning is making your own blend from scratch. But if you don’t have all of the ingredients, a combination of chili powder and cumin will work. You can also use fajita seasoning if you don’t mind a bit of a zesty kick.
I made small batches of taco meat to test different taco seasoning substitutes.
Taco seasoning is a blend of spices that have a warm, spicy, and smoky flavor. As the name suggests, it’s used to season taco meat, but its powder form makes it incredibly versatile. You can also sprinkle it over popcorn, fries, and even roasted vegetables. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade Taco Seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Chili Powder And Cumin||1 tbsp taco seasoning = ½ tbsp chili powder + ½ tbsp cumin||9/10|
|Fajita Seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Taco Sauce||Use according to the instructions||8/10|
|Chipotle Seasoning||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Salt And Pepper||Start with a teaspoon of salt and pepper||6/10|
DIY Taco Seasoning Recipe
The best substitute for taco seasoning is to make your own homemade taco seasoning. It’s super straightforward and you have the freedom to tweak the ingredients to suit your liking. For example, I hate spicy food, so I don’t add as much chili powder as the recipe calls for.
Speaking of ingredients, most of what you need is hopefully already in your pantry. And if you’re missing something, it will be easy to find.
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp paprika (sweet or smoky)
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp each salt and pepper
Once you have all the ingredients, simply mix them together in a bowl and you’re done. You can also grind the mixture in a spice grinder if you want a finer powder.
Keep your taco seasoning in an airtight jar and a cool, dry place, and it will last for 6 months.
How to Substitute: Replace taco seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with the homemade version.
Chili Powder And Cumin
Don’t have all the ingredients to make your own taco seasoning? As long as you have chili powder and cumin, consider your tacos saved!
Chili powder and cumin are two of the main flavors in taco seasoning with chili powder adding heat and cumin adding an earthy flavor. It won’t have the same complexity or depth of flavor as regular taco seasoning, but it’s a decent substitute in a pinch.
And once you’ve topped the meat with salsa, cheese, and all the fixings, the flavor differences won’t be too noticeable.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 tbsp taco seasoning with ½ tbsp chili powder + ½ tbsp cumin.
This option is obviously meant for fajitas, but hear me out! Fajita seasoning shares many of the same base ingredients as taco seasoning, giving it a familiar savory goodness.
My fajita seasoning had a milder heat than taco seasoning and a more tart edge to it. If you want it spicier, simply look for a ‘spicy’ fajita seasoning packet or add more chili powder to it. And if you want to tone down the tartness, a pinch of warming cumin or paprika will do the trick.
That said, there is no ‘official’ recipe for taco or fajita seasoning, so your versions might be more similar than mine!
How to Substitute: Replace 1 tbsp taco seasoning with 1 tbsp fajita seasoning.
Taco sauce is a ready-made liquid alternative to taco seasoning that will infuse your meat with all the characteristic smoky and savory flavors.
The catch with using taco sauce is you’ll have to cook the beef directly in the sauce, which means your meat will be wetter than usual. My taco sauce also had more acidity to it than the seasoning because of the added tomato base.
You can generally find taco sauce in different heat levels, which is great for me because I always want mild.
Psst… think this sauce is a tad too acidic? You can balance too much acidity with a pinch of sugar.
How to Substitute: Replace taco seasoning with taco sauce according to the sauce instructions.
For those who want a more explosive flavor, try using a chipotle seasoning blend to replace your regular taco seasoning. Most brands have the same base ingredients as taco seasoning, but the added chipotle powder makes a world of a difference.
Aside from adding an extra kick of spice, it brings a more prominent smoky note that works especially well with beef and chicken.
There are a couple of brands that sell this seasoning blend, but my favorite has to be Mrs. Dash. It’s salt-free, you can really taste the chipotle peppers in it!
How to Substitute: Replace taco seasoning in a 1:1 ratio with chipotle seasoning.
Salt And Pepper
When all else fails, you can turn to plain old salt and pepper to season your taco meat. This isn’t the best substitute flavor-wise, but the salt ensures your meat won’t be bland.
And the key when using this substitute is to load your tacos up with toppings! Refried beans, salsa, chipotle lime crema – the works. These add-ons will bring that distinctive Mexican flavor to your tacos, even when your meat is relatively plain.
How to Substitute: Start with a teaspoon of salt and pepper, and adjust to taste.
Substitutes To Avoid
The following are a couple of substitute suggestions I came across while researching, but they didn’t work out in my tests:
- Sriracha: This is a hot sauce flavored with garlic – it’s primarily spicy and a bit tangy. Sriracha (or any other hot sauce) would be great as a topping on your tacos, but it’s too one-dimensional to season your meat with.
- Ranch Seasoning: This is made with a mixture of dried herbs and buttermilk powder, which gives it a zesty, herby kick. It’s absolutely delicious, but it’s a far cry from the spicy, earthy goodness of Taco seasoning.
BEST Taco Seasoning Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground paprika
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp dried oregano
- Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Transfer the mixture into an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place.