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Salsa - The Fun, Flavorful Condiment

Updated on February 23, 2012
Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean resides in North Dakota, where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.

What's the number one condiment in the United States? (drum roll). It's not's not relish...nope, it's not even ketchup, it's the FUN, the FLAVORFUL...SALSA!

According to Food Product Design magazine, as of December 2000, salsa uprooted ketchup as the number one condiment in the U.S, mainly because salsa adds more zest to our meals. Apparently, Salsa is much saucier, spicier and more flavorful and fun than ketchup could ever dream of being.

salsa - a great condiment for all sorts of food
salsa - a great condiment for all sorts of food

What is Salsa?

The word 'salsa' means sauce.The most common forms of salsa are made up of tomatoes, chilies, onions and other spices. We usually find it mild, medium or hot forms in terms of spiciness.

The Aztecs and other Central American nations were the first to domesticate the wild tomato, which is indigenous to Ecuador and Peru. Chilies were domesticated in Latin America. The Incas, Mayas and Aztecs made the sauce (translated to salsa by a Spanish missionary) with chilies, tomatoes and other ingredients like squash seeds and even beans.

Since its very beginnings, salsa has been used on a variety of foods. The Aztec people used their sauce on seafood, turkey and venison. Today, this popular condiment is used on everything from chips and enchiladas to eggs and chicken.

salsa cruda
salsa cruda

Kinds of Salsa

There are a variety of different kinds of salsas. Some of the more popular ones include:

Salsa roja (red sauce) - used in Mexican and Southwestern foods. Made with tomatoes, chilies, onions, garlic, peppers and cilantro.

Salsa cruda (raw sauce) - also known as pico de gallo. Made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, chili peppers, onions, cilantro leaves, and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.

Salsa verde (green sauce) - Made with tomatillos or green tomatoes.

Salsa negra (black sauce) - Made with dried chilies, oil, and garlic.

Salsa taquera (taco sauce) - Made with tomato paste

Guacamole - Made from avocados, generally used as a dip instead of a sauce

Chipotle Salsa (a smoky, spicy sauce) - Made with smoked jalapeno chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices.

Mango Salsa (a spicy-sweet sauce) - Made with mangoes

Homemade Salsa

Homemade salsa continues to increase in popularity, mainly due to the simplicity and the ability to control the type of flavor, intensity and spiciness. There are many variations of salsa. To experiment try the following tips when making your own:

  • Cilantro is the herb most commonly found in salsa. But when making your own, instead of cilantro you can use: parsley, basil, oregano or mint.
  • Besides tomatoes, try using mangoes, peaches, melons, pineapple or tomatillos.
  • To add flavor, color and texture try adding bell peppers, radishes, black beans, avocado, fresh corn kernels
  • If you like sweet, salty, sour and spicy add salt, lime juice or vinegar, bottled hot sauce and pinches of sugar, until you find your perfect taste.


Prepared Salsa

Prepared salsa is especially popular in regions outside of the Southwest United States. It's long shelf life and widespread availability are reasons that canned or jarred salsa is so popular. To increase their shelf life, these salsas are cooked to a temperature of 175 degrees F. Some of these prepared salsas use vinegar or pickled peppers in vinegar instead of fresh peppers.

Some grocery stores also sell refrigerated salsa in plastic containers. This fresh salsa has a shorter shelf life and may be more expensive.

According to, in a blind taste test of over 80 different kinds of prepared salsa these three came out on top in their categories:

  • Best Gourmet Salsa: Desert Pepper Trading Co. Salsa
  • Best All Natural Salsa: Green Mountain Gringo Salsa
  • Best Supermarket Salsa: Pace Salsa

Other favorite salsas included:

  • Herdez Salsa Casera
  • Old El Paso
  • Santa Barbara

Salsa is made from a variety of healthy ingredients.
Salsa is made from a variety of healthy ingredients.

Health Benefits of Salsa

Besides tasting delicious, there is an added bonus to eating salsa - it's good for you. Salsa is very low in calories and cholesterol and usually has no added sugar or fat. In order to get all of the health benefits of salsa, it is recommended to eat a half-cup portion which adds an extra serving of vegetable or fruit to your daily diet.

Salsa contains tomatoes which contain lycopenes. These carotenoids may play a role in preventing prostate cancer as well as heart disease. Cooked, processed tomatoes instead of raw tomatoes are the best source of lycopenes since the heat makes the carotenoids more available for absorption.

Most salsas are made with chili peppers which contain capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as anti-cancer, anti-ulcer, and anti-bacterial properties.

Onions are low in sodium, high in vitamin C and a good source of fiber. They contain a flavonoid called quercetin which may protect against cataracts, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Garlic can lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots and reduce blood pressure. Studies have also shown that garlic can prevent cancer and protect against bacterial and fungal infections.

Homemade salsa is somewhat healthier because of the lower sodium content. Most prepared salsa contains from 90 to 270 milligrams (mg) of sodium in just two tablespoons. Even though that’s half the sodium content of ketchup, if you eat a half cup of salsa, that's more than one-third of the recommended daily intake of sodium.

Why Salsa is the Number One Condiment in America...According to Seinfeld


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