Salsa has been used by the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs, and their descendants for thousands of years to add more flavor to their food. This sauce didn’t have a name until 1571 when a Spanish priest, missionary, and grammarian gave it a name “salsa” which coincidentally means “sauce” in Spanish. Interestingly enough, the popularity of Salsa in the United States started in Texas and slowly worked its way up and throughout the States. Today, salsa is no longer considered as an “exotic” condiment and this is evidenced by the fact that in 2013, salsa became the king of condiments in the United States as sales outpaced those of ketchup as the condiment of choice.
- Salsa, which is associated with Mexican cuisine, is used as a sauce in Mexico, and not shoveled with tortilla chips.
- The dance “salsa” actually took its name from the sauce. According to Juliet McMains, the name was used to promote soulful and spicy music, just like the sauce.
- In 1998, the USDA made the designation that salsa was a vegetable dish, which allowed it to be served in school campuses.
- Salsa and tortilla chips were designated as the State snack of Texas back in 2003.
- Tomatoes and jalapenos, two of the major salsa components, are actually fruits and not vegetables.
- Traditionally, salsa is made by crushing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Today, it is mostly made using a food processor or simply chopped by hand and mixed together.
Salsa Buying Guide
With all of the different types of salsa out there, it’s really not that easy to write up a buying guide as each person’s tastes vary just like one salsa varies from the next. Here’s a rundown of the most popular salsas out there and a quick flavor profile to make your buying decisions easier.
- Salsa Roja – This is literally translated into “red sauce.” If you’re new to the world of salsa, this is the perfect place to start. Salsa Roja is made with four basic ingredients, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and garlic. This is your basic salsa which is used as the main sauce for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and so on.
- Salsa Verde – This “green sauce” also has an ingredient list that’s as simple as salsa Roja. The ingredients are tomatillos, white onions, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers. The salsa’s signature green color comes from the tomatillos. It is very popular in Tex-Mex cuisine and if you see any Tex-Mex dish with a green sauce on it, then chances are is that sauce is salsa verde.
- Salsa Fresca – Literally translated as fresh salsa, is also commonly known as Pico de Gallo. This has basically the same ingredients as salsa Roja, but instead of being pounded or blended together, the ingredients are just sliced and tossed together.
- Salsa de Aguacate – While this may sound very exotic, this is basically a thinner version of guacamole with tomatillos added. Guacamole tends to be really rich and paste-like while salsa de Aguacate is a little thinner and watery. This is used much like salsa verde is.
- Salsa Ranchera – This translates into “ranch-style sauce.” This is commonly made with roasted tomatoes, roasted chiles, and other spices.
The most common bottled commercial salsa is Salsa Soja with the addition of larger tomato slices to make it chunkier and more “dip-friendly.” While there is nothing wrong with commercially bottled salsa, there is the issue of preservatives and other ingredients that aren’t needed when making salsa. Of course, having salsa as fresh as possible adds to its taste and quality. If you really want fresh salsa but don’t have the time to both shop for ingredients and make it yourself, your best bet would be to drop by a farmstead or a farmers’ market to see if they have freshly made salsas for sale.
And considering the popularity of salsa in Texas, it’s almost guaranteed 99.99% of the time that you will find locally-produced small-batch salsa in your local farmers’ market or specialty store. In fact, you can even try local Tex-Mex eateries and ask them if they sell salsa by the bottle, most of them will probably oblige if you ask nicely enough.
Salsa Production & Farming in Texas
Everyone in Texas knows about salsa. I would even say that each household has its own version of salsa recipe. Not only has Texas been the conduit of salsa into America from Mexico, but Texas has also been the birthplace of some of the most iconic brands of commercially produced salsa that has introduced this condiment to the tables of almost every household in America. There’s so much more to say about salsa and Texas but the best way to experience it is to try the different kinds of salsa around the state to fully appreciate how intermingled Texas and salsa culture is. In fact, it’s very hard to find a Tex-Mex dish that doesn’t have one form of salsa that is served or included with the dish.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Due to the popularity of salsa as a condiment in America, the number of commercially produced salsa has also skyrocketed. Some of the chemicals and additives that can be found in commercially produced salsa are the following:
- Sugar (salsa doesn’t traditionally have sugar, and if it did need a touch of sweetness, honey or agave syrup is the preferred sweetener)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – we would rather have sugar than HFCS in our salsa.
- Calcium chloride – This is added to add increase the saltiness of the salsa without increasing the sodium content. There are some health concerns about the use of calcium chloride in food so it’s best to err on the side of safety and avoid any salsa that contains this additive.
- Xanthan gum, guar gum, pectin – These are gums that are used as thickeners and emulsifiers. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these additives, some people may have a mild reaction to these.
- Potassium sorbate and Sodium Benzoate – These are preservatives that extend the shelf life of salsa. While these preservatives are generally regarded as safe in tiny quantities, more studies are needed to fully understand the effects of long-term consumption of this additive.
- Natural and artificial colorings – Added to the salsa to give it a pleasing and appetizing look in order to be competitive with the hundreds of other salsa on commercial shelves.
To avoid these, you can do one of three things. Go read each and every single label on every bottle of salsa to see if it contains any of these additives, or you can make your own. The third and final way to avoid these additives is to visit your local farmers’ markets and get your salsa there. The salsa that is sold in these markets are mostly made on that day so you can be guaranteed fresh salsa without all the added extras.
Salsa is typically packaged in glass jars so that they can be pasteurized and safely canned.
If I had my way, I would have salsa with everything. The most popular way to eat salsa is to scoop it up with corn or tortilla chips. Salsa can also be used as a topping to any savory dish like steak, chicken, baked potatoes or actually, as I mentioned earlier, on pretty much everything.
Freshly made and properly canned salsa can last up to one year at room temperature as long as it is stored away from light. Opened bottles of salsa can be stored in the fridge for up to five days, but be sure to give it a good whiff before consuming just to be sure.
Make Your Own Salsa:
Now as we mentioned earlier, nearly every household has its own salsa recipe so we’ve decided to share ours to you as well. There might be more ingredients than your standard basic salsa, but trust us, it’s worth it.
Tomatillo, 1 piece
Roma Tomato, 6 pieces
Peeled Roma Tomatoes, 2 cups (or one 14-ounce can of peeled tomatoes)
Fresh Jalapenos, 7 pieces
Poblano peppers, 1 piece
Fresh garlic cloves, 4 pieces minced
Salt, 1 tablespoon
Black Pepper, 1 teaspoon
Juice of 2 limes
Small white onion, 1 piece
Cumin, 1 teaspoon
Roast poblano pepper peppers until the skins blister to add a grilled and smoky taste to the salsa.
Chop onions and jalapeno peppers to smaller, more manageable pieces.
Puree the canned tomatoes in a food processor until watery.
Add all of the other ingredients and pulse until the desired level of chunkiness is reached.
Allow to sit for half an hour in the fridge to allow the tastes to meld together before serving.