Taco Bell’s taco salad shells are made from a fried flour tortilla. The flour tortilla is deep fried into a bowl shape to create the signature crispy taco salad shell that Taco Bell is known for. Keep reading to learn more details about the ingredients and preparation process for Taco Bell’s famous taco salad shells.
Ingredients in Taco Bell Taco Salad Shells
According to Taco Bell’s website, the ingredients used to make their taco salad shells include:
- Enriched bleached flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
- Vegetable shortening (interesterified soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil) – used for frying
- Contains 2% or less of the following: sugar, potassium chloride, trehalose, salt, autolyzed yeast extract, baking powder (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), vital wheat gluten, soy lecithin, dough conditioner (sodium metabisulfite).
As you can see, the main ingredients are typical flour tortilla ingredients – enriched bleached wheat flour, water, shortening, sugar, salt, leavening agents, and conditioners. The key difference is that the tortillas are shaped and fried to form the taco salad shell.
How Taco Bell Makes Taco Salad Shells
To make the taco salad shells:
- Taco Bell starts with flat flour tortillas about 6 inches across.
- The tortillas are molded and shaped into bowl-like shells.
- The shaped tortilla shells are fried in vegetable oil until crispy.
- The fried shells are seasoned with a mixture of salt and other spices.
Shaping and frying the tortilla transforms it from a flatbread into the signature crispy taco salad shell. The frying process gives the shell its golden color, crispy texture, and added flavor from absorbing oil and seasonings.
Nutrition Facts for Taco Salad Shells
The nutritional value of Taco Bell’s taco salad shells is as follows according to the company website:
As you can see, the taco salad shells are high in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. This is expected given the flour and deep frying that goes into making them. The shells pack 180 calories per serving with 10 grams of fat, including 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
Health Concerns with Taco Salad Shells
While tasty, Taco Bell’s taco salad shells are not the most healthy menu option, especially for people watching their weight or cholesterol levels. Here are some health concerns to consider if eating taco salad shells often:
- High calories and fat – The 180 calories and 10 grams of fat can add up quickly if eating taco salads frequently.
- Saturated fat – The 2.5 grams of saturated fat per shell is a significant amount and can impact heart health if consumed excessively.
- Carbohydrates – While the 18 grams of carbs is not exorbitantly high, it can affect blood sugar levels for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
- Sodium – The 380 milligrams of sodium per shell accounts for over 15% of the recommended daily value. Too much sodium can increase blood pressure.
- Lack of nutrients – The shells themselves provide almost no nutritional value beyond calories, fat, and carbs. However, taco salad toppings can provide more nutrients.
Overall, taco salad shells are best enjoyed in moderation as an occasional treat. Limiting portion sizes to one shell and loading up on vegetable toppings is a healthier way to enjoy Taco Bell taco salads.
Gluten-Free and Low Carb Alternatives
For people following a gluten-free or low-carb diet, Taco Bell’s standard taco salad shells are not the best option due to containing wheat flour and 18 grams of carbohydrates. However, there are some alternatives to consider:
- Order a salad bowl with no shell – This avoids the carbs and gluten entirely. Load up on meat, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and lettuce.
- Use a low-carb tortilla – Request a salad shell made with one of Taco Bell’s lower carb tortilla options, like the Power Menu Bowl tortilla.
- Bring your own shell – You can make salad shells out of low-carb ingredients like chicken or cheese at home and bring them to fill at Taco Bell.
- Try a lettuce wrap – Order your taco salad fillings wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves instead of the fried flour shell.
While not perfect substitutes, these alternatives help reduce carbs, fat, gluten, and calories for people with specific dietary needs or preferences.
Copycat Recipe to Make at Home
To recreate Taco Bell style taco salad shells at home, here is a simple copycat recipe:
- 6-inch flour tortillas
- Oil for frying (canola, vegetable, peanut, etc)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- In a small bowl, mix together the salt, garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder.
- Heat at least 2 inches of oil to 350°F in a heavy pot or skillet.
- Take one flour tortilla and fold it into a U-shape, overlapping the sides. Use your fingers to mold the middle into a bowl shape. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
- Fry the shaped tortillas 2-3 at a time for 45-60 seconds until golden brown. Flip over halfway through frying.
- Remove fried shells and immediately sprinkle with the seasoning mixture.
- Let shells drain on paper towels. Serve when cool enough to handle.
Be careful of hot oil when frying at home. Shape and fry tortillas in small batches to prevent sticking. Add taco meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and other favorite taco toppings to fill the shells.
Buying Pre-Made Taco Salad Shells
Instead of frying shells from scratch, another option is to purchase pre-made taco salad shells from the grocery store. Most major brands like Old El Paso, Ortega, and Mission make packaged taco salad shells that are ready to fill and serve. Look for them in the Mexican food aisle or ethnic foods section of the supermarket.
Pre-made shells save time and avoid the mess and oil needed for frying at home. However, the texture may be less crispy compared to freshly fried shells. But for a quick and convenient taco salad, buying ready-made shells is an easy shortcut.
Taco Bell’s signature taco salad shells start as simple flour tortillas that get molded and deep fried into a crispy, crunchy bowl. While tasty, the shells are high in fat, sodium, and carbs compared to other menu options. People looking for more nutritional and diet-friendly choices can try alternatives like salad bowls or lettuce wraps. But enjoyed occasionally, the classic fried flour shells add satisfying crunch and Tex-Mex flavor to Taco Bell’s cult favorite taco salads.