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Some fresh pico de gallo salsa.
Salsa may refer to any type of sauce. In American English, it usually refers to the spicy, often tomato based, hot sauces typical of Hispanic cuisine, particularly those used as dip. In British English, the word typically refers to salsa cruda, which is common in Mexican, Spanish and Italian cuisine.

Pronunciation and etymology

The word salsa is derived from the Latin salsa ("salty"), from sal ("salt"). Saline and salad are related words. The proper Spanish pronunciation is ; however most English speakers pronounce it as . The Spanish meaning of the word salsa makes the common expression "salsa sauce" redundant.


Mexican salsas were traditionally produced using the mortar and pestle-like molcajete, although blenders are now more commonly used. Well-known salsas include
  • Salsa roja, "red sauce": used as a condiment in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, and usually made with cooked tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh cilantro.
  • Salsa cruda ("raw sauce"), also known as pico de gallo ("rooster's beak"), salsa picada ("chopped sauce"), salsa mexicana ("Mexican sauce"), or salsa fresca ("fresh sauce"), "salsa bandera" ("flag sauce", in allusion to the Mexican flag): made with raw tomatoes, lime juice, chilli peppers, onions, cilantro leaves, and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients.
  • Salsa verde, "green sauce": Mexican version made with tomatillos. Sauces made with tomatillos are usually cooked. Italian version made with herbs.
  • Salsa negra, "black sauce": a Mexican sauce made from dried chilis, oil, and garlic.
  • Salsa taquera, "Taco sauce": Made with tomatillos and morita chili.
  • Salsa ranchera, "ranch-style sauce": made with tomatoes, various chilies, and spices. Typically served warm, it possesses a thick, soupy quality. Though it contains none, it imparts a characteristic flavor reminiscent of black pepper.
  • Salsa brava, "wild sauce": a mildly spicy sauce, often flavored with paprika. On top of potato wedges, it makes the dish patatas bravas, typical of tapas bars in Spainmarker.
  • Guacamole: thicker than a sauce and generally used as a dip, it refers to any sauce where the main ingredient is avocado.
  • Mole ( ): a Mexicanmarker sauce made from chili peppers mixed with spices, unsweetened chocolate, almonds, and other ingredients.
  • Mango Salsa: a spicy-sweet sauce made from mangoes and used as a topping for nachos. It is often also used as a garnish on grilled chicken or grilled fish due to the sauce's gamut of complementary flavors.

There are many other salsas, both traditional and nouveau, some are made with mint, pineapple, or mango.

Health issues

Care should be taken in the preparation and storage of salsa, since many raw-served varieties can act as a growth medium for potentially dangerous bacteria, especially when unrefrigerated. In 2002, a study appearing in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, conducted by the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, found that 66% of the sauces tested (71 samples tested, sauces being either: salsa, guacamole, or pico de gallo) from restaurants in Guadalajaramarker, Jaliscomarker and 40% of those from Houstonmarker, Texasmarker, were contaminated with E. coli bacteria, although only the sauces from Guadalajaramarker contained the types of E. coli that cause diarrhea. The researchers found that the Mexican sauces from Guadalajara contained fecal contaminants and higher levels of the bacteria more frequently than those of the sauces from Houston, possibly as a result of more common improper refrigeration of the Mexican sauces.

Prepared salsa

American commercially-prepared salsa.
(May 2009).
Most jarred, canned, and bottled salsa and picante sauces sold in the United States in grocery store are forms of salsa cruda / pico de gallo. To increase their shelf life, these salsas have been cooked to a temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of these shelf-stable salsas have added vinegar; some use pickled peppers (in vinegar), instead of fresh peppers. Tomatoes are extremely acidic by nature, which along with the heat processing is enough to stabilize the product for grocery distribution.These commercial jarred, canned, and bottled salsas typically have a semi-liquid texture; so-called "chunky salsa" appears to be the most popular form of jarred salsa currently . More expensive brands tend to have more chunks of vegetables in them.

While some salsa fans decry these products as not real salsa cruda, their widespread availability and long shelf life are credited with much of salsa's enormous popularity in states outside of the southwest, especially in places where salsa is not a traditional part of the cuisine.

Many grocery stores in the United Statesmarker also sell "fresh" refrigerated salsa, usually in plastic containers. Fresh salsa is usually more expensive and has a shorter shelf life than canned or jarred salsa. It may or may not contain vinegar.

In 1992, Packaged Facts, a food marketing research group, found that the dollar amount of salsa sales had overtaken those of ketchup (but not in total volume). This may be partly due to salsa spoiling faster than other condiments, and may be purchased more often than condiments with longer shelf lives.

Picante sauce is often chunkier than generic salsa. Picante is a Spanish adjective that derives from picar, which means "to sting", referring to the feeling caused by salsas on one's tongue (compare the English word piquant).

Taco Sauce is a condiment sold in American grocery stores and fast food Tex-Mex places. Taco sauce is similar to its Mexican counterpart in that it is smoothly blended, having the consistency of thin ketchup. It is made from tomato paste instead of whole tomatoes and lacks the seeds and chunks of vegetables found in picante sauce.


  1. 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.
  2. San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 2003, pp. E-1

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