Savoring Salsa

Salsa is the spicy sauce typical of Central and South American cuisine, where its ingredients are indigenous.

Tomatoes are native to Peru and Ecuador. Possibly as far back as 3000 BC, the Aztecs combined peppers, ground squash seeds, and other ingredients, even beans, with the tomatoes or tomatillos to produce a sauce. Domestication of these plants allowed for this sauce to become a staple of the Aztec diet. The ingredients were processed with a molcajete, which resembles a mortar and pestle. 

The Aztecs introduced Spanish explorers to peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, squash, and beans between 1519 and 1521. The Spanish word for sauce is salsa, which derives from the Latin salsa (salty) Some sources believe that the dish was named by Spanish priest and missionary Alonso de Molina in 1571.

Well-known salsas include:

  • Salsa roja (red sauce), is used as a condiment in Mexican and Southwestern U.S. cuisines. It usually includes cooked tomatoes, peppers, and onion, and may include garlic or cilantro.
  • Pico de gallo (rooster’s beak), also known as salsa fresca (fresh sauce), salsa picada (chopped sauce), or salsa mexicana (Mexican sauce). It is made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, peppers, onions, and may include cilantro and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.
  • Salsa verde (green sauce), is made with tomatillos, usually cooked.
  • Fruit salsas are spicy-sweet sauces made from mangoes, pineapple, or other fruits.
  • Corn salsa is a chunky salsa made with sweet corn and other ingredients, such as onions and peppers.

In 1898, Encaracion Pinedo’s El Cocerina Español (The Spanish Cook), a Spanish-language cookbook published in the United States, contained two recipes for Salsa Fresca (Fresh Sauce): Salsa de Chili Verde (green salsa) and Salsas Picante de Chili Colorado.

The La Baca family produced the first jar of La Victoria Foods Salsa Brava in 1917 in Los Angles. In 1941, Henry Tanklage formed the La Victoria Sales Company to market a new La Victoria salsa line. He took over the entire La Victoria operation in 1946.

In 1947, David and Margaret Pace made syrups, salad dressings, and jellies in the back of their liquor store in San Antonio, Texas. They sold their products door-to-door. David, by trial and error, began to make salsa and test it on his friends. When it was introduced commercially, it was so popular that the Paces were forced to drop all other products and concentrate on the picante sauce. Eight years later, La Preferida began manufacting a line of salsas in Chicago.

In 1975, the trend towards artisan salsas began when Dave and Patti Swidler of Tucson, Arizona, launched Desert Rose Salsa. Four years later, in Austin, Texas, Dan Jardine began production of D.L. Jardine’s Salsa. W. Park Kerr and his mother Norma started The El Paso Chili company in 1980 with yet another artisan salsa line. In 1986, Miguel’s Stowe Away Restaurant in Stowe, Vermont began selling their own line of salsa, and Sauces & Salsas, Ltd. began selling the Montezuma line of salsas in Ohio. The following year, Hormel licensed name Chi-Chi’s from a restaurant chain of the same name and began producing a marketing a line of Chi-Chi’s salsa to compete with Pace.

Between 1985 and 1990, salsa sales grew 79%. Between 1988 and 1992, households in the US buying salsa increased from 16% to 36%. By 1992, the top eight salsa manufacturers were Pace, Old El Paso, Frito-Lay, Chi-Chi’s, La Victoria, Ortega, Herdez, and Newman’s Own. By 1993, competition from smaller salsa companies was so fierce that Pace, Old El Paso, and six other brands saw Texas sales decline three percent. In 1994, Campbell Soup Company bought Pace Foods for $1.1 billion, and Pillsbury bought Pet Foods, producers of Old El Paso Mexican foods, for $2.6 billion.

The good news is that salsa is more than great taste. Salsa can:

  1. Help prevent cancerTomatoes are rich in lycopene. These carotenoids may help prevent various types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Most commercial salsas purchased in the United States have been cooked, and cooked, processed tomatoes are the best source of lycopene, because the heat makes the carotenoids more available for absorption. In addition, the capsaicin in peppers has anti-cancer properties, although excessive consumption of capsasin has been associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer, so moderation is best.
  2. Help prevent heart disease. Heart-healthy lycopene may also help prevent heart disease.
  3. Help prevent arthritis. Capsaicin has anti-inflammatory effects, which may be helpful for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
  4. Help prevent ulcers. Capsaicin also has anti-ulcer and anti-bacterial properties. Excessive consumption of hot peppers may increase symptoms of GERD. (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and irritable bowel syndrome, so be careful if you have those conditions.
  5. Help you lose weight. Most salsa has only four to five calories per tablespoon. Plus, it usually has no added sugar or fat. It makes an excellent substitute for ketchup which is usually loaded with sugar. Plus, the capsaicin in chili peppers also has a slight thermogenic effect which could play a role in treating obesity.

Despite being low in calories, jarred salsa is a good source of potassium, vitamin B6, copperfibervitamin Aniacinvitamin Kvitamin E, and magnesium

Many commercially produced salsas are high in sodium, so read the label carefully before purchasing commercial salsa at your grocery store. Another option is to make your own fresh salsa at home so that you control the amount of sodium.

Nutrients in 1/2 Cup Commercially Produced Salsa

Nutrient

Amount

DV

sodium

919 mg

38%

potassium

385 mg

11%

vitamin B6

0.2 mg

11%

copper

0.2 mg

9%

fiber

2.1 g

8%

vitamin A

380 IU

8%

niacin

1.456 mg

7.3%

vitamin K

5.9 mcg

7%

vitamin E

1.59 mg

6.3%

magnesium

19.5 mg

5%

phosphorus

44 mg

4.4%

protein

2 g

4%

vitamin C

2.5 mg

4%

calcium

39 mg

3.9%

choline

16.6 mg

3.02%

thiamine

0.046 mg

3%

carbohydrates

8.74 g

2.9%

iron

0.52 mg

2.9%

manganese

0.147 mg

2.9%

pantothenic acid

0.263 mg

2.6%

riboflavin

0.042 mg

2.5%

selenium

1.2 mcg

2%

Calories

38

1.9%

zinc

0.25 mg

1.7%

folate

5.2 mcg

1%

An alternative to store-bought salsa is to make your own. Especially if you use fresh, raw ingredients, you can decrease the sodium and increase the vitamins, especially heat-sensitive vitamin C.

Pico de Gallo

6 long green chiles
2 large ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored, seeded and coarsely hand-chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/3 cup minced onion
2 large fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely hand-chopped
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
3/4 teaspoon salt

1. Over the open flame of a gas burner or under a preheated broiler, roast the long green chiles, turning them, until they are lightly but evenly charred.

2. Place the charred chiles in a paper bag, or in a bowl covered with a plate, and allow them to steam until cool.

3. Rub away the charred skin of the chiles.

4. Stem and seed the chiles and coarsely chop them. There should be about 1 cup.

5. In a medium bowl, stir together the chopped tomatoes, chopped green chiles, onions, jalapeños, lime juice, and salt.

6. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

7. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. The salsa will lose some if its texture, but the flavor will remain good for up to two days.

Servings: 5
Yield: 2 1/2 cups

Percent daily values based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition information calculated from recipe ingredients.

Nutrients in 1/2 Cup Homemade Pico de Gallo

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin C

148.17 mg

247%

vitamin A

1293.29 IU

26%

sodium

357.76 mg

15%

vitamin B6

0.3 mg

15%

manganese

0.28 mg

14%

potassium

440.48 mg

13%

fiber

2.47 g

10%

folate

35 mcg

9%

vitamin E

0.82 mg

8%

copper

0.16 mg

8%

thiamine

0.11 mg

7%

vitamin K

5.9 mcg

7%

magnesium

27.59 mg

7%

phosphorus

56.86 mg

6%

niacin

1.06 mg

5%

iron

0.98 mg

5%

riboflavin

0.08 mg

5%

carbohydrates

13.38 g

4%

protein

2.23 g

4%

calcium

28.45 mg

3%

choline

16.6 mg

3%

zinc

0.38 mg

3%

Calories

56.61

2.8%

pantothenic acid

0.17 mg

2%

selenium

0.51 mcg

0.9%

Besides using salsa as a dip with chips, here are some other things you can do with salsa:

  1. Top off tacos, burritos, or fajitas with salsa.
  2. Spoon it over scrambled tofu or add to vegan omelets and frittatas.
  3. Spoon it over cooked grits.
  4. Add it to veggie burger mixtures.
  5. Slather it on top of veggie burgers.
  6. Use a thin salsa as a base for salad dressing.
  7. Add lime juice to a thin, puréed salsa and marinate tofu.
  8. Stir it into cooked rice; top with sliced black olives.
  9. Layer it onto a vegan grilled cheese sandwich.
  10. Add it to soups, stews, or chilis.
  11. Put some on your vegan mac and cheese.
  12. Add breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast to salsa; stuff into eggplant halves.
  13. Spread chunky salsa onto sliced Italian bread for bruschetta.
  14. Add cucumbers and vegetable stock to salsa and purée into gazpacho.
  15. Mix equal parts salsa with vegan yogurt or sour cream; put it on a baked potato or combine it with mashed potatoes.
  16. Add to a vegan “meetloaf” to give it a Mexican flair.
  17. Stir into chickpea salad or potato salad.
  18. For the daring: glaze a pound cake with a sweet fruit salsa drizzle it over vegan ice cream.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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