Salsa (Mexican cuisine)

Salsa is a variety of sauces used as condiments for tacos and other Mexican and Mexican-American foods, and as dips for tortilla chips. They may be raw or cooked, and are generally served at room temperature.[1]

A variety of salsas
Region or stateMexico
Main ingredientsVaries

Though the word salsa means any kind of sauce in Spanish, in English, it refers specifically to these Mexican table sauces, especially to the chunky tomato-and-chili-based pico de gallo, as well as to salsa verde.[2][3]

Tortilla chips with salsa are a ubiquitous appetizer in Mexican-American restaurants, but not in Mexico itself.[4]

A dish of sauce or relish is as indispensable to the Mexican table as our salt, pepper, and mustard.

Diana Kennedy, The Cuisines of Mexico[5]


The use of salsa as a table dip was first popularized by Mexican restaurants in the United States. In the 1980s, tomato-based Mexican-style salsas gained in popularity. In 1992, the dollar value of salsa sales in the United States exceeded those of tomato ketchup.[6]

Mango pineapple salsa, made with jalapeños, red onion, and cilantro (coriander), served in a ramekin

Tomato-based salsas later found competition from salsas made with fruit, corn, or black beans. Since the 2000s sweet salsas combining fruits with peppers like habanero, Scotch bonnet and datil have grown in popularity and are served with frozen dessert, cheesecakes, and pound cakes.[7] In the United States, salsa is used in marinades, salad dressings, stews, and cooked sauces. In addition to accompanying various fish, poultry, and meat dishes, it is also used as a condiment for baked potatoes, pasta dishes, and pizza.[8]


Various types of Mexican salsas, including moles
A chorizo-and-egg breakfast burrito with salsa

Salsa is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, served as a condiment with tacos, stirred into soups and stews, or incorporated into tamale fillings. Salsa fresca is fresh salsa made with tomatoes and hot peppers. Salsa verde is made with cooked tomatillos and is served as a dip or sauce for chilaquiles, enchiladas, and other dishes. Chiltomate is a widely used base sauce made of tomatoes and chiles. The type of pepper used for chiltomate varies by region, with fresh green chiles being more common than habanero in Chiapas.[9] Tamales are often identified according to the type of salsa they are filled with, either salsa verde, salsa roja, salsa de rajas, or salsa de mole.[10]

Mexican salsas were traditionally produced using the mortar and pestle–like molcajete, although blenders are now used. Mexican salsas include:

Importance of proper storage

A salsa bar at a Mexican restaurant in California

The WHO says care should be taken in the preparation and storage of salsa and any other types of sauces, since many raw-served varieties can act as growth media for potentially dangerous bacteria, especially when unrefrigerated.[12]

In 2002, a study by the University of Texas–Houston found sauces contaminated with E. coli in:

In 2010, the CDC reported that 1 in 25 foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008 was traced back to restaurant sauces (carelessly prepared or stored).[14]

A 2010 paper on salsa food hygiene described refrigeration as "the key" to safe sauces. This study also found that fresh lime juice and fresh garlic (but not powdered garlic) would prevent the growth of Salmonella.[15]

See also


  1. Smith, Andrew F. (2009). "Salsa". Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 517. ISBN 0195387090.
  2. "Salsa". Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  3. "Salsa". Collins Dictionary. Collins Dictionary. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  4. Kamp, David (2006). The United States of Arugula. p. 310. ISBN 0767915798.
  5. Kennedy, Diana (1972). The Cuisines of Mexico. p. 296. ISBN 0060123443.
  6. "Ketchup? Catsup? Ke-cap? / Whatever the name, a squirt of red can change everything". SFGate. 27 August 2003.
  7. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. p. 644.
  8. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. p. 179.
  9. Hoyer, Daniel (2009). Mayan Cuisine. Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423610243.
  10. Adapon, Joy (2008). Culinary Art and Anthropology. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 114. ISBN 9781847886064.
  11. "salsa cruda - food". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  12. Larry R. Beuchat. "Surface decontamination of fruits and vegetables eaten raw: a review" (PDF). World Health Organization. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 5, 2011. Retrieved July 22, 2010.
  13. Javier A. Adachi, John J. Mathewson, Zhi-Dong Jiang, Charles D. Ericsson, and Herbert L. DuPont. Annals of Internal Medicine, June 2002, Vol. 136, pp. 884–887.
  14. "Salsa and Guacamole Increasingly Important Causes of Foodborne Disease". Retrieved July 23, 2010.
  15. Ma L; Zhang G; Gerner-Smidt P; Tauxe RV; Doyle MP (March 2010). "Survival and growth of Salmonella in salsa and related ingredients". J. Food Prot. 73 (3): 434–44. doi:10.4315/0362-028x-73.3.434. PMID 20202327.
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