Whether you sprinkle it on mango slices, the rim of your favorite beverage, or chicken wings, Tajín Clásico is becoming a go-to seasoning for imparting spicy, salty tang to people’s favorite foods. Long appreciated in Latin communities, in recent years Tajín has gained a following — one that could go toe-to-toe with those for regional spices like Maryland’s fixation on Old Bay and the far-reaching love of Louisiana’s Tony Chachere’s Creole seasonings.
In Houston, though — the U.S. headquarters for Empresas Tajín’s manufacturing plant — there’s a particular penchant for this secret formula of chile peppers, sea salt, and lime. Houston Mexican restaurant Picos incorporates it in marinades. Heights bar Eight Row Flint uses it in several of its cocktails. Popsicle and paleta shops like Popston use it in their frozen treats. La Lucha and Dish Society pair it with fruity salads, and even grocery chain H-E-B incorporates Tajín in its sushi offerings.
The love affair started years ago.
Although the combination was already used in Mexico to add a punchy and savory flair to fruits and vegetables, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that Tajín’s founder, Horacio Fernández, began to work on packaging his grandmother’s recipe for the spice combination. During a business trip to a convention in Chicago, Fernández was inspired by how water was packaged in bottles. It occurred to him that he could do the same with Tajín, and soon after he launched his company in Jalisco, Mexico in 1985, says Javier Leyva, the U.S. director of Empresas Tajín.
In 1993, Fernández established Tajin’s only U.S. headquarters in Houston — the first market outside of Mexico. With a growing Latin population that converged with other international communities, its close proximity to Mexico, and its reputation as an international hub, “it was the best place in the U.S. to start building,” says Leyva.
Nearly 30 years later, Tajín has become an undeniably Texas condiment, with locals adding the seasoning to fruits and vegetables — most often mango, watermelon, pineapple, and cucumber.
Austin-based restaurateur and bar owner Gabriela Bucio says combining salty and sweet, whether with candy or paletas, is standard in Mexican households — and Tajín just made it easier to apply a dash of those flavors to all types of foods. “It’s just a magical Mexican seasoning and a very familiar flavor that we grow up with,” says Bucio, who is slated to open her third outpost of Gabriela’s — a bar known for its Tajín- and chamoy-ladened drinks — in Midtown this fall.
Similarly, Monica Richards, owner of Houston Mexican restaurant Picos, says her first encounter with Tajín was on the side of the road in Mexico, where it was dusted on fruit cups — adding a balance of salt, citrus, and spice. Since then, she’s sprinkled it on raw vegetable sticks or elote corn that’s slathered with butter, sour cream, and cheese.
But now, “people are using it for everything,” she says.
“It’s becoming a classic. People enjoy it, and people who have never had it are curious to try it,” adds Bucio, noting that she’s seeing more people all over the country requesting Tajín-lined rims over the traditional salt.
Cocktails, margaritas, and beers have become major drivers of Tajín’s proliferation, with Tajín-rimmed micheladas — beers smeared with sweet and salty chamoy sauce — being a popular choice. Like many local Houston residents, Richards now uses it to jazz up marinades, elevate a traditional burger recipe, spice up a smoked turkey breast for the holidays, or impart more flavor on grilled fish or meats.
Since 2018, Tajín’s sales in the U.S. — which make up half of the company’s global sales — have soared by 50 percent, with Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles being the top three markets. In 2022, Google searches for the terms “tajin” and “chamoy” peaked at their highest points in history in the U.S. and across the world. Major companies like Blaze Pizza, Baskin-Robbins, Snak Club, and Nestlé have since teamed up with the seasoning company to create new products, and celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, too.
Television personality Kim Kardashian, rapper Cardi B, and Houston’s own Megan thee Stallion and Olympian Simone Biles have all named-dropped or displayed their favorite Tajín combinations in one way or another, with Biles telling Glamour magazine a Taíin-rimmed watermelon margarita is her go-to choice, and Megan mentioning using the seasoning on mango in her song “Don’t Stop.”
“It’s extremely versatile, and people are understanding what its uses can be a little bit better because of such high exposure,” Richards says.
“What’s happening now is consumer-driven,” adds Marisol Espinosa, spokesperson for Tajín, noting that the pandemic — particularly lockdowns — propelled more people to cook at home, experiment, and share their experiences on social media, thus increasing the condiment’s visibility beyond its traditionally Latin audience. (Most recently, frozen Tajín grapes have made the rounds as a dessert, Espinosa says).
“Social media plays a huge role in how Tajín is growing around the world, and not just in the United States,” Leyva says. “People love to share positive things about it, and their experiences of trying Tajín for the first time, or new ways to consume it. People want to share it.”
But Richards also gives some credit to the tequila industry for propelling Tajín into the limelight, noting that Jose Cuervo was one of the earliest brands that she remembers promoting the addition of Tajín to the rims of cocktail glasses. “Honestly, it’s been such a normal thing in our family, but with the celebrity influence and in the tequila world, it’s making people want to eat it and to be seen using it,” says Richards. “It’s just easy for people to understand it and use it now because there’s so much variety.”
Tajín as a company has also invested in its own growth. In 2021, it branched out beyond its original product and launched its mild hot sauce, a chicharrones line in partnership with 4505 Meats, and its own chamoy that’s been advertised as an addition to margaritas, mangoes, and pizza.
The Houston Chronicle reported in April that Tajín had launched its newest manufacturing plant, the Center for Research and Field Experimentation, in Jalisco, Mexico. The 161,458-square-foot facility is set to increase its production by 80 percent or 5.3 million pounds of product per month, making Tajín the largest commercial purveyor of chile-based products in the world.
Still, Espinosa says Houston remains one of the largest markets thanks to the city’s diversity, its Latin community, and the major role it plays in Texas’s robust food culture.
For Richards, there’s no saying what Tajín lovers will shake it onto next. “The sky is the limit, really,” she says.