Salsa is a staple condiment in Mexican cuisine that adds flavor and spice to dishes. However, the term “salsa” in Mexico refers to a range of sauces that can vary greatly by region and preparation. Here’s a look at what Mexicans call salsa and the diversity of Mexican salsas.
Mexicans Use the Spanish Word “Salsa” For Sauce
In Mexico, salsa simply means “sauce” in Spanish. So Mexicans call any type of sauce or dip “salsa.” This includes the chunky tomato and chili based salsas that are common in Mexican restaurants worldwide. But it also refers to other sauces ubiquitous in authentic Mexican cooking like:
- Mole – rich, thick sauces made from chili peppers, spices, nuts, seeds, and chocolate
- Enchilada sauce – made from guajillo chilies and spices
- Chimichurri – herb sauce made from parsley and oregano
- Queso – cheese dip
- Pico de gallo – fresh salsa made from chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro, and lime
- Salsa verde – made from tomatillos and green chilies
So in essence, “salsa” is a broad term for any Mexican sauce. While in other countries it has come to specifically refer to the tomato-based dip, Mexicans use salsa to describe a wide range of sauces central to their cuisine.
There Are Many Different Types of Salsa in Mexico
When it comes to the tomato and chili based salsas, there is still great diversity across Mexican regions. Here are some of the main types of salsas found in Mexico:
When Mexicans refer to “salsa picante” they mean a spicy, chili-based salsa. This is the type most akin to the tomato and chili salsa served in Mexican restaurants worldwide. It also includes salsas made from chili peppers alone. They can range from mild to very spicy.
Pico de Gallo
Pico de gallo is a fresh salsa made from chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro, and lime. It has a bright, acidic taste. Pico de gallo means “rooster’s beak” in Spanish, referring to how the serrated edges of the chopped ingredients resemble a rooster’s beak.
Salsa verde is made from tomatillos and green chilies. It has a bright green color. Tomatillos resemble small green tomatoes but actually belong to the gooseberry family. They have a tart, lemon-like flavor.
Salsa de Molcajete
Salsa de molcajete refers to salsa made using a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle called a molcajete. The tomatoes, chilies, garlic, onions, cilantro, and spices are ground together into a coarse texture. This style of salsa is common in authentic Mexican restaurants.
Salsa botanera is another traditional Mexican salsa served as an appetizer in restaurants. It typically contains some combination of chopped tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lemon or lime, and sliced chili peppers.
Salsa mexicana contains tomatoes, onions, garlic, sliced jalapeños, and cilantro. It has a chunky consistency and robust flavor.
Salsa ranchera is made from roasted tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, and garlic. The ingredients are roasted before being pureed or chopped. It originated from the Mexican countryside or “rancho.”
Salsa cruda means “raw salsa.” It is made from uncooked ingredients like tomatoes, onions, chilies, herbs, and spices. The ingredients are finely chopped rather than blended or pureed.
Salsa taquera is designed specifically for tacos and taquerias (taco shops). It has a smooth, almost liquified texture. The main ingredients are tomatoes, garlic, onion, chili peppers, vinegar, and spices.
Regional Differences Across Mexico
Every region in Mexico has its own distinctive salsas using local ingredients and preparation styles. Here are some of the popular regional salsas found in Mexico:
- Salsa semilla de mostaza – made from burnt mustard seeds
- Salsa de soyate – made from a wild palm frond called soyate
- Salsa Xni Pec – made from fiery habanero chilies
- Salsa de chile max – made from a local pumpkin-shaped chili
- Salsa negra – dark-colored smoky salsa made from dried chilies
- Salsa de chapulines – salsa mixed with crunchy toasted grasshoppers
- Salsa with chocolate – salsas mixed with cacao
- Salsa de guajillo – made from guajillo dried chilies
Every family also has their own salsa recipe passed down through generations. Salsas are customized based on the types of chilies grown locally and personal preferences.
Salsa is such an integral part of Mexican cuisine that the term refers to any type of sauce rather than just the tomato-based dip. While salsa is versatile across Mexico, every region has its distinctive salsas using local ingredients and recipes. Whether roasted, raw, mild, spicy, or sweet, salsas are an essential part of Mexican culinary culture.