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What is Salsa?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Nearly every world cuisine has its own version of relish. Indian food features chutney. Western food leans toward chow-chow or pickle relish. In Spanish and Mexican cuisine, salsa is king. Real, homemade salsa bears little resemblance to the substance found on grocery store shelves. The word means “sauce” in Spanish and it is usually a condiment made from tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, salt and hot peppers, with a touch of vinegar or lemon juice for acidity. Sometimes, the mixture is cooked or the tomatoes blanched, but it is also often served with no heat added.

As with most of these kinds of condiments, salsa has many purposes. In earlier days, it was a good way to preserve tomatoes in a tasty way. It also preserved their nutrition value. Salsa also added seasoning and taste to food. In modern times, it is generally used to flavor foods or as a dip for tortilla chips. However, it can be combined with cheese dip to make a tasty snack dip or as a relish or condiment for Mexican food.

Salsa is usually made with a tomato base, but can also be made with other vegetables or fruit. Mango salsa is a recently popular addition to the repertoire. It uses basically the same ingredients, but substitutes cubed mango for the tomatoes. Peach salsa is also an interesting variation on the dish, as are tomato-based recipes that have black beans and corn added to the mix. The common denominator is that it all has some kind of hot peppers in it. The cook, of course, determines the amount of heat, and it can range from mild to volcanic.

Every Mexican restaurant has its own version of salsa. Some roast the tomatoes before adding them. Some restaurants saute their onions or use other kinds of hot peppers such as banana peppers, rather than the traditional jalapeno. Some restaurants prefer serving a “chunky” salsa, while others prefer a smoother mixture.

One of the best attributes of salsa is its nutritional value. It has vitamin C and all the good things associated with tomatoes. Plus, it is low in carbohydrates, fat and cholesterol. On average, a serving has about 15 calories — certainly better than the average French onion dip. So, it’s a healthy snack, as well as a delicious one. It is easy to make at home and any cook who wants to try it will be rewarded by the outcome.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Jul 02, 2011

For those on a diet making your own salsa can be a great way to have a tasty topping on hand, without having something that is high calorie. Most salsa when made only comes out to about 10 calories for 2 tablespoons, which is fantastic when you compare it to other toppings, such as cheese.

I think that sticking to a tomato base, and using lots of fresh vegetables is a great way to keep your salsa healthy and satisfying. I love chopping up red, green and yellow bell peppers for my salsa, as I find that give it a richer, sweeter taste, which I really enjoy.

By letshearit — On Jul 01, 2011

Salsa alongside nachos has been one of my favorite snacks for a long time, and adding the zesty cheese sauce to it just makes it all the better. I have always purchased my salsa before, but after reading about it, making my own seems pretty easy.

Does anyone have any ingredients they feel makes the best salsa?

I am curious to experiment with a few different mixes. I imagine that making your own salsa would be much cheaper than buying it from the store. I usually pay about four to five dollars for a small jar, and that only ever lasts me one night.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 01, 2011

Mango salsa is excellent with chicken. I like to pour the mango salsa over the chicken in a baking pan and place it in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

When the chicken is ready, I like to add some fresh cold mango salsa to it for an extra kick. The contrast of hot and cold salsa gives it an extra yum factor.

If you want to cook vegetables as a side dish for chicken mango salsa, stewed tomatoes are great. Their tangy flavor goes well with the tangy salsa.

By shell4life — On Jul 01, 2011

I did not even think of using banana peppers in salsa! That is an awesome idea, because I can't handle extremely hot peppers.

I made some fish tacos last night with onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and lime juice with Mexican rice. They were missing something I just couldn't put my finger on, and now I think it was salsa. Tomatoes and peppers really would have amped up the flavor.

Homemade salsa also would have gone great with the corn chips I served on the side. I'm not a huge fan of salsa in a jar, but the homemade version sounds delicious.

By StarJo — On Jun 30, 2011

Salsa is a key ingredient in chicken tortilla soup. It gives the soup a Mexican kick.

Chicken tortilla soup includes a diced zucchini, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of minced garlic, 3 cups of water and one cube of chicken bouillon, a can of black beans, a can of corn, 12.5 ounces of canned chicken, and one cup of salsa. Basically, you boil all of these ingredients together until the zucchini is tender.

I have accidentally left the salsa out of the soup before, and though it still tasted good, it did not taste like Mexican food. Salsa really makes it interesting.

By jonrss — On Jun 29, 2011

I love to make a salsa verde with green tomatoes. It is such a nice change of pace from the salty red salsas that are so common. Sometimes I use tomatillas and sometimes I use green tomatoes that my neighbor grows. The other ingredients are basically the same, but changing up the tomatoes gives the sauce a really unique flavor.

By suntan12 — On Jun 29, 2011

I really enjoy really spicy salsas, I just love the taste of spicy food and when I eat spicy salsa it feels invigorating.

My husband can’t handle the spicy flavor so we always have to buy the spicy salsa for me and the mild for him. I put my salsa on just about everything. I love it.

By icecream17 — On Jun 28, 2011

@Latte31 - Mango salsa sounds a little strange to me. I think I've just got the tomato-based idea of salsa so stuck in my mind that a sweeter one would just taste odd. What do you eat it with? Is it like a dessert thing?

By latte31 — On Jun 27, 2011

I love any salsa recipe with mango. It is delicious because it changes the flavor of the salsa from a salty to a tangy flavor that is more balanced. I use salsa with tacos and tortilla chips and it is fantastic. I also put some on my salad too.

I wanted to add that the word salsa also has to do with a Latin dance in which you constantly move your hips from side to side. There are many variations to salsa dancing, but Cuban salsa is my favorite because I think that it is easier to follow and I love the music that is usually accompanied by it. Salsa dance steps might be a little intimidating in the beginning, but after a while you will get the hang of it.

You can even check out some salsa videos or learn salsa dance steps from an instructor. This is not only a popular Latin dance but it is also great exercise especially for the hips and legs.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at DelightedCooking...
Learn more
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