Salsa sauce has become one of the most popular condiments in recent years, with its tasty combination of tomatoes, chilies and other spices. But where did it originate?
Salsa sauce is traced to ancient Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. They cultivated pepper and tomato plants and worked with them until they had developed hot peppers and luscious tomatoes. Long before Columbus arrived in the New World, peppers and tomatoes had gone from the Incas into Mexico and Central America.
Spanish explorers found tomatoes during their Mexican conquest. Not many references are found in Spanish documents mentioning tomatoes, though. Europeans would write of “tomates”, and Aztec lords were known to combine them with squash seeds and chili peppers, served on fish, lobster, venison and turkey. This condiment would come to be known as “salsa” in 1571, by Alonso de Molina.
Salsa means “sauce” in Spanish, which indicates that the condiment originated in the Western hemisphere’s Spanish speaking countries. It was especially popular in Central America and Mexico. “Salsa” actually means many different things in these countries, including sauces that are cooked or not, and served cold or hot, as well as some that are smooth and some that are chunky.
Salsa consumption in the United States expanded beyond Hispanic areas in the 1940’s, first in the American Southwest and later over larger areas. The most popular salsa was – and is – a type of salsa cruda (meaning raw sauce) of Mexican extraction. It is also called salsa fresca (which means fresh sauce) and salsa Mexicana (which is Mexican sauce).
Salsa is typically made with tomatoes, of course, and also with peppers and onions (Salsa Macha gourmet salsa, however is a little different). Americans eat a lot more spicy foods than they used to, and salsa is a natural part of these foods. Salsa is also incorporated into some weight loss diets, since it is usually full of vitamins, high in fiber and low in calories.
You could buy Texas salsa starting in the 1940’s. One company in operation then, in San Antonio, is one of the leading makers of salsa today – Pace Foods. Other popular brands include Old El Paso and Frito-Lay.
Also in the 1940’s, Henry Tanklage started making La Victoria salsa. He introduced people to enchiladas and green and red taco sauces, as well. These were among the first hot sauces in the United States.
In the 1970’s, America was introduced to Desert Rosa Salsa, and Jardine’s commercial salsa, and Austin became America’s hot sauce capital. El Paso Chili Company began in the 1980’s in Texas, and Montezuma salsa was launched in the 1980’s, as well.
The number of American homes serving salsa has steadily increased in the years since these brands became known. Pace Foods, which is very well-known from TV advertising, was sold to the Campbell Soup Company in the 1990’s.
Salsa is eaten with chips today, and also placed on other foods, as it was in Central America in years past. It is a condiment that is much healthier than some of the other types, and it seems like you can find it in many different stores today.