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Nachos are a popular menu item at Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurants. Whether they’ve got a topping of cheese or are loaded with ground beef, refried beans, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole, nachos are a culinary experience. Before you grab a platter, find out what nachos taste and smell like.
The smell and taste of nachos come from their ingredients. Tortilla chips form a salty corn base, topped with savory melted cheese, fiery chili peppers, smokey beans, buttery avocado, sweet tomato, earthy cumin, grassy cilantro, and bright lime. The overall aroma and each bite combine these.
You may wonder what you’re missing if you’ve always watched others tuck into plates of crunchy tortilla chips, gooey melted cheese, and other delicious toppings. What do nachos taste like? What do nachos smell like?
What Do Nachos Smell Like?
Sitting in a restaurant waiting for your plate of nachos or smelling nachos cooking in the kitchen makes your mouth water. The aromas of Mexican ingredients can be intense but are spicy and delightful at the same time. Let’s nose around for a few characteristic scents nachos provide.
Nachos Smell Like Tortilla Chips
The smell of tortillas frying or baking on a hot griddle is sweet, with an undertone of oil and corn. Your nachos shouldn’t smell greasy, though, or burned.
Nachos Smell Like Cumin
Cumin, a spice that reminds many people of dirty feet, is an overwhelming smell of Mexican food. Cumin has an earthy aroma that can be pretty robust, but you should be sensing warmth and nuttiness rather than BO.
Cumin needs to be used sparingly, or else the aroma will overwhelm the rest of the dish.
The scent of cumin has the effect of stimulating your appetite, making you want to guzzle your plate of nachos.
Nachos Smell Like Chili Peppers
The intense heat of chili peppers is another smell you’ll pick up from nachos.
Nachos can be topped with slices of pickled jalapeno or have peppers as an ingredient in the ground beef, pico de gallo, or guacamole. They may also contain chili powder and paprika, adding sweetness and spiciness to the aroma.
A distinctive aroma you may also pick up is the smokiness of roasted peppers, which char slightly and have a sweet juiciness. Smoked chipotle chilies also have a woody scent, while dried chilis smell fruity.
Nachos Smell Like Cheese
The smell of melted cheese is comforting and nostalgic, sending many of us back to childhood memories of grilled cheese or pizza.
The smell and taste of cheese are closely linked, with the creamy texture highlighting the sharpness of the cheese. Depending on which cheese mix is used, it may smell earthy and sour, mainly if you’ve used cotija cheese, which can smell like blue cheese. The smell of Monterey Jack cheese is smokey and sweet, while cheddar is sharp.
Nacho cheese sauce has a somewhat pungent smell, very salty and spicy.
Nachos Smell Like Cilantro
Cilantro or fresh coriander is a divisive herb, loved for its earthy citrus aroma but reviled by those who find it tastes and smells like soap.
You’ll find cilantro as an ingredient in the pic de gallo or the guacamole, often added as a bright, leafy garnish.
To most people, cilantro smells floral and adds a fresh note to the heaviness of melted cheese.
Nachos Smell Like Oregano
Another herb commonly used in nachos is lemon-scented Mexican oregano, as the traditional Mexican herb epazote isn’t easy to find in the US. Epazote has an unusual turpentine-like smell and should be used sparingly, whereas oregano’s fresh woodiness is appealing.
Nachos Smell Like Lime
Mexican food uses bright citrus aromas to contrast with the earthiness of other spices. Your nachos will have lime juice as an ingredient in the guacamole, the crema, and garnish.
Lime has a subtler scent than lemons and oranges and has a tangy balance of sweet and sour that provides a pop of flavor and aroma.
What Do Nachos Taste Like?
Nachos consist of different ingredients layered up together, so every bite should be a blend of multiple flavors, covering all five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
Depending on which toppings you have chosen, different flavors will come to the fore, balancing and complementing each other.
Let’s dig deeper into the nachos dish and imagine all of these flavors bursting in your mouth.
Nachos Taste Like Tortilla Chips
The base layer of a plate of nachos is tortilla chips, which give the dish crunch, saltiness, and an underlying corn flavor.
Tortilla chips are so essential to nachos that some people call the chips “nachos.” They are the canvas, not the final dish.
These chips are simply corn tortillas that have been cut up and fried or baked. You should be able to detect the corn’s sweetness, especially blue corn, which is incredibly appetizing
The chips need to be robust enough to hold the layers of toppings without breaking and getting soggy.
Many nacho aficionados suggest creating more than one layer of tortilla chips. This hack lets you use the chips as a scoop, prevents them from getting soggy under a heap of toppings, and avoids you eating all the toppings, leaving you with a pile of plain chips.
Ideally, the chips should be plain, not flavored, with only salt as a seasoning. Flavored chips can overwhelm the other parts of the meal, so they aren’t suitable.
Nachos Taste Like Cheese
If you’ve ordered the basic nachos, they consist of tortilla chips topped with luscious melted cheese; the more, the better.
The cheese forms one of the most delicious layers because it has the unique savoriness of umami. Umami describes the fifth flavor (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), which is hearty, meaty, and appetite-provoking. Cheese also contains fat, which tastes rich, and encourages you to eat more.
The cheesy flavor will depend on the route you take, either choosing an individual cheese or, like many nacho fans, blending different cheeses to get sharp and zingy flavors.
- Mexican cheeses: Queso cotija is a dry, crumbly cheese with a robust saltiness. It doesn’t melt but is more like a garnish after the nachos have baked. Queso blanco refers to any soft white cheese that melts well and has a more subtle flavor.
- Spicy cheese; Monterey Jack is a smooth, buttery cheese typically used on Tex-Mex nachos. It melts well and may have added zest from pimentos or jalapenos. Pepperjack is even zingier in flavor as it has bits of pepper in it.
- Cheddar: Freshly shredded cheddar is also a winner, with its sharp tanginess.
- Nacho cheese: A sauce more than a type of cheese, nacho cheese is available in spray cans, regular cans, and pouches and makes fast food nachos crave-able. This processed cheese sauce often has added jalapeno peppers, so it tastes tangy, zesty, and salty.
Nachos Taste Like Chili Peppers
Apart from tortilla chips and cheese, the most straightforward recipes for nachos include a topping of zesty-tasting pickled jalapeno peppers.
These green chili peppers have a similar flavor to green bell peppers, with a mild burn in the front of your mouth and an acidic aftertaste.
Depending on how piquant you like your food, you can add more jalapenos, serrano peppers, or hotter red peppers.
Nachos Taste Like Grilled Corn
An authentically Mexican addition to nachos is grilled or barbequed corn, adding natural sweetness and smokiness. The corn flavor reinforces the base layer of tortilla chips.
The traditional street food, elote, consists of a whole corn cob grilled on an open fire with lime juice, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Elote comes with spicy mayonnaise and lime topping. For nachos, the corn kernels are cut off the cob and sprinkled on as a layer.
Here’s a recipe for Easy Elotes Locos to start you off.
Nachos Taste Like Spicy Beef, BBQ Chicken, Or Pulled Pork
Nachos will taste like the decadent, spicy toppings you add to the tortilla chips. You’ll often find a layer of spicy ground beef, shredded chicken, or even tender pulled pork, giving the nachos a hearty, fiery flavor.
The typical spices used in the protein layer are called taco seasoning. The distinct flavors you’ll taste are:
- Chili powder: With its slow burn, red chili powder adds fire to the nachos.
- Cumin: This typical Mexican spice has an earthy undertone.
- Smoked paprika: A warming spice, smoked paprika adds a smokiness, sweetness, and vivid color to the mixture.
- Garlic powder: Too much garlic will make the flavor pungent, but adding a dash gives the beef or chicken a brightness.
- Salt and pepper: These basic seasonings aren’t at the front of the taste but enhance the other spices.
Some nachos include BBQ sauce in their meaty layer, which is typically sweet and smokey.
Nachos Taste Like Refried Beans
Another standard layer you’ll taste on loaded nachos is beans, whether you add them to the beef or chicken or use them as a standalone layer.
Refried beans have been cooked and then fried with some onions and spices. You’ll taste the creamy, earthy sweetness of the pinto beans or the savoriness of black beans. You may also taste the oil used, especially if it is bacon drippings. Oregano is a common herb in refried beans, adding a floral note.
The texture of refried beans is also crucial to Mexican and Tex-Mex food, creating a luscious, smooth layer to juxtapose with the stringy melted cheese and hearty ground beef.
Nachos Taste Like Pico De Gallo
Apart from the cooked ingredients, nachos also taste like the fresh toppings, particularly pico de gallo or salsa fresca, made from raw tomatoes.
This spicy tomato relish is added to the nachos once the cooked ingredients have been layered on and baked. You’ll taste the refreshing sweetness of ripe tomatoes, the bite of crisp slivers of onion, the herbaceous punch of cilantro, and the fire of jalapeno peppers.
If you prefer your nachos with less burn, you can scatter on chopped, raw tomatoes to cool the mouth and contrast with the gooey, salty cheese.
Nachos Taste Like Avocado
Another fresh topping added after baking is avocado, often in the form of creamy, buttery guacamole.
Avocado is a staple of Mexican food that, like tomatoes, provides a cooling element. The fruit also adds a velvety texture and an earthy flavor that bounces off the refried beans and contrasts with the sharp pico de gallo.
Guacamole is a sauce or dip that shouldn’t contain much more than mashed avocado, salt, and sour lime juice, especially if it is dolloped on top of nachos.
However, some guac lovers add chopped raw onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and jalapenos if they want additional freshness and bite.
Nachos Taste Like Sour Cream
The final topping on nachos is usually Mexican crema, similar to sour cream, which tastes rich, indulgent, and slightly tart.
Crema has a cheesier flavor than American sour cream and is comparable to crème fraîche as it is higher in fat than cream and has a definite tanginess. It may be flavored with lime juice, garlic, and salt and thinned a little before drizzling over the nachos.
Tex-Mex restaurants often use sour cream as a substitute for authentic crema.
Here’s What Makes Nachos Taste And Smell So Good
Each ingredient of the nachos contributes a taste that blends in your mouth: you’ll experience sweetness from tomatoes, fieriness from chili, sourness from lime crema, umami from melted cheese, saltiness from tortilla chips, and bitterness from cumin.
The mouth-watering aroma of nachos is created by the unique blend of herbs and spices that characterize Mexican and Tex-Mex food: earthy cumin, citrus notes from lime and oregano, fresh florals from cilantro, and smokiness from chili peppers.