Salsa is the Spanish, Arabic, and Italian word that can refer to any type of sauce. In American English it usually refers to the spicy, often tomato- or corn-based hot sauces typical of Mexican cuisine, particularly those used as dips. In British English, the word typically refers to salsa cruda, which is common in Mexican, Spanish and Italian cuisine.
Pronunciation and etymology
The word salsa
is derived from the Latin salsa
"), from sal
are related words. It is usually pronounced [ˈsɑːlsə] by English speakers; in Spanish it is .
Mexican salsas were traditionally produced using the mortar and pestle-like molcajete, although blenders are now more commonly used. Well-known salsas include
- Salsa roja, "red sauce": used as a condiment in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, and usually made with cooked tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro.
- Salsa cruda ("raw sauce"), also known as pico de gallo ("rooster's beak"), salsa picada ("chopped sauce"), salsa mexicana ("Mexican sauce"), or salsa fresca ("fresh sauce"), "salsa bandera" ("flag sauce", in allusion to the Mexican flag): made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, chilli peppers, onions, cilantro leaves, and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.
- Salsa verde, "green sauce": Mexican version made with tomatillos. Sauces made with tomatillos are usually cooked. Italian version made with herbs.
- Salsa taquera, "Taco sauce": Made with tomatillos and morita chili.
- Salsa ranchera, "ranch-style sauce": made with tomatoes, various chilies, and spices. Typically served warm, it possesses a thick, soupy quality. Though it contains none, it imparts a characteristic flavor reminiscent of black pepper.
- Salsa brava, "wild sauce": a mildly spicy sauce, often flavored with paprika. On top of potato wedges, it makes the dish patatas bravas, typical of tapas bars in Spain.
- Guacamole: usually any sauce where the main ingredient is avocado.
- Mole (pronounced mole ['mo.le]): a Mexican sauce made from chili peppers mixed with spices, unsweetened chocolate, almonds, and other ingredients.
- Mango Salsa: a spicy-sweet sauce made from mangoes and used as a topping for nachos. It is often also used as a garnish on grilled chicken or grilled fish due to the sauce's gamut of complementary flavors.
There are many other salsas, both traditional and nouveau for instance, some are made with mint, pineapple, or mango.
Care should be taken in the preparation and storage of salsa, since many raw-served varieties can act as a growth medium for potentially dangerous bacteria
, especially when unrefrigerated. In 2002
, a study appearing in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine
, conducted by the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, found that 66% of the sauces tested (71 samples tested, sauces being either: salsa, guacamole
, or pico de gallo
) from restaurants in Guadalajara
and 40% of those from Houston
, were contaminated with E. coli
bacteria, although only the sauces from Guadalajara
contained the types of E. coli
that cause diarrhea. The researchers found that the Mexican sauces from Guadalajara contained fecal contaminants and higher levels of the bacteria more frequently than those of the sauces from Houston, possibly as a result of more common improper refrigeration of the Mexican sauces.
American commercially prepared salsa
Most jarred, canned, and bottled salsa and picante sauces sold in the United States in grocery stores
under brand names like La Victoria
, Clint's Picante
, Old El Paso
, Taco Bell
, Carrillo's Fire-Roasted Salsa
, Bandana Bandito
and Newman's Own
are forms of salsa cruda
/ pico de gallo
, but to increase their shelf life, have been cooked and have vinegar
Unlike fresh salsa cruda, these commercial jarred, canned, and bottled salsas typically have a semi-liquid texture more akin to that of canned tomatoes, and often resemble chunky commercial spaghetti sauces. So-called "chunky salsa" appears to be the most popular form of jarred salsa currently. More expensive brands tend to have more chunks of vegetables in them. Blended salsas such as Xerarch's Nice N' Hot Salsa have gained popularity due to their less watery consistency and full flavor "chipability".
While some salsa fans decry these products as not real salsa cruda, their widespread availability and long shelf life are credited with much of salsa's enormous popularity in states outside of the southwest, especially in places where salsa is not a traditional part of the cuisine.
Many grocery stores in the United States also sell "fresh," refrigerated salsa, usually in plastic containers. Fresh salsa is usually more expensive and has a shorter shelf life than canned or jarred salsa. It may or may not contain vinegar.
There are fresh all-natural jarred salsa products produced regionally as well that do not use artificial ingredients or chemicals to enhance shelf life. Among the most well known are Carrillo's Fire-Roasted Salsa made in Rye, New York, El Pinto Salsa made by The Salsa Twins, and Jim & John Thomas in New Mexico. In 1992, Packaged Facts, a food marketing research group, found that the dollar amount of salsa sales had overtaken those of ketchup (but not in total volume). This may be partly due to salsa spoiling faster than other condiments, and may be purchased more often than condiments with longer shelf lives.
Picante sauce is a term coined by condiment maker David Pace for his own version of salsa. Picante sauce is usually a little more pureed than bottled salsa, but is chunkier than fresh red salsa. Picante is a Spanish adjective that derives from picar, which means "to sting", referring to the feeling caused by salsas on one's tongue (compare the English word piquant).