The Real History of Salsa

By Michael Sasaki


History of Salsa

The word "salsa" is the Spanish word for sauce. The salsas that many of us think of are salsa frescas or salsa cruda, fresh sauces served as a condiment aside a Mexican meal. These uncooked sauces might be pureed until smooth, semi-chunky, or the uniformly chopped pico de gallo (my favorite).

The Chile - Tomato Combination

The making of of a sauce by combining chiles, tomatoes, spices and other ingredients like squash seeds and even beans has been documented back to the Aztec culture. We have Spanish-born Bernadino de Sahagun to thank for the detailed culinary history of the Aztec culture. His extensive writings documented every food common to the culture. This is an excerpt from Sahagun's writings about the food vendors in the large Aztec markets:

"He sells foods, sauces, hot sauces, fried [food], olla-cooked, juices, sauces of juices, shredded [food] with chile, with squash seeds, with tomatoes, with smoke chile, with hot chile, with yellow chile, with mild red chile sauce, yellow chile sauce, sauce of smoked chile, heated sauce, he sells toasted beans, cooked beans, mushroom sauce, sauce of small squash, sauce of large tomatoes, sauce of ordinary tomatoes, sauce of various kinds of sour herbs, avocado sauce. (Sahagun, translated 1950 -1982). Ingredients Then and Now The paragraph above refers to many of the ingredients in our modern-day salsas."

Large tomatoes - We believe this references is to a large red tomato similar to what we eat to day.

Ordinary tomatoes - most likely this reference is to the tomatillo or tomate verde.

Smoked chiles - The chipotle or smoked jalapeno was a staple in the Aztec diet.

Avocado - cultivated by the Aztecs the avocado was an important source of fat and protein and was used in a sauce similar to what we call guacamole.

Two Delicious Salsa Recipes:

2 c fresh plum tomato, diced 1 c fresh green tomato, diced 1/2 c fresh green bell pepper, diced 1/4 c fresh purple onion, chopped. 1 tbsp jalapeno pepper, finely chopped 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped 1 clove fresh garlic, minced 1/4 tsp salt. 1/8 tsp coarsely ground pepper. 2 tbsp fresh lime juice 1 tbsp olive oil. Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir well. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serve with corn or flour tortilla wedges, poultry, or fish. Yield: 3 cups (approx 6 calories per tbsp).

Mango Salsa 2 medium ripe mangoes 1 small cucumber, peeled, diced (it says seeded, but I've never bothered) 1 ripe tomato juice of 1 lime (lemon works, too!) pinch of salt 1/2 - 1 small fresh chile pepper, minced, or Tobasco or other hot pepper sauce to taste (I have always used Tobasco) 1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh cilantro (It says optional, but I don't really think so).

Peel and chop the mangoes. In a large bowl, mix together the mangoes, cucumber, tomato, lime juice, salt, chile or tabasco, and cilantro. Let salsa sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend before serving. Mango salsa keeps refrigerated for 2 or 3 days.

Michael K. Sasaki is the founder of where you can find delicious salsa recipes.