views updated May 17 2018



Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce, and in Mexico it refers to sauces that are used as an ingredient for a variety of dishes and as a condiment. Most salsas are especially spicy, due to the prominence of hot chili peppers in their ingredients. Literally hundreds of such sauces exist, including piquant fruit salsas. In the United States, salsa resembles a spicy tomato sauce from Mexico called salsa cruda, or raw salsa, and is used primarily as a condiment, especially with tortilla chips. In 1991, salsa outsold ketchup as the most popular condiment in America. Today, salsas account for almost half of the sauces sold in the United States. In 1992, salsa accounted for $802 million in sales; that figure is expected to reach $1 billion by 1995.

Salsas have been know for a thousand years in Mexico, yet salsa as we know it today is a fairly well-balanced blend of both Old World and New World ingredients. The tomatoes, tomatillos, and chilies found in salsa are native to this hemisphere, while all the other ingredients, such as onions, garlic, and other spices, are Old World in origin. Mexican cuisine has traces of Aztec, Spanish, French, Italian, and Austrian influences. The ingredients of salsa began in places as diverse as India and the Near East, yet most of them had established firm footholds in Europe before Spain's conquest of Mexico in the early sixteenth century. Hence, most of the ingredients can be attributed to Spain's influence on Mexico.

Mexican cuisine is traditionally noteworthy for its time-consuming preparation. Foods such as mole are complex blends of pulverized spices, fruits, chocolate, or other ingredients that can take days to prepare. Fresh salsa used to be made using a molcajete and a tejolote, or mortar and pestle. This device, originally made from black basalt, has been in use for 3,500 years to prepare a variety of foods.

Raw Materials

Mass-produced salsas come in different varieties. The basic formula for salsa consists of tomatoes and/or tomato paste, water, chili peppers (green, yellow, serrano, and/or anaheim), optional jalapefio peppers, vinegar, onions, garlic, green bell peppers, and spices, including black pepper, cilantro, paprika, cumin, and oregano. The most common alternative salsa is salsa verde, made with tomatillos. Of the same genus (Physalis) as the ground cherry grown in the southern United States, tomatillos are tart, green fruits grown inside papery pods that replace red tomatoes in the basic salsa recipe. Other special formulas may have green tomatoes, carrots, black-eyed peas, or even cactus as ingredients.

Most commercially prepared salsas also contain additives. These include salt, sugar, vegetable oil, calcium chloride, pectin, modified food starch, xanthum gum, guar gum, dextrose, and potassium sorbate. Beet powder and canthaxanthin can be added for color, and sodium benzoate or citric acid can be added as preservatives.

The Manufacturing

Selecting the produce

  • 1 The salsa manufacturer purchases fresh, frozen, or dehydrated produce, such as tomatoes, peppers, and onions, from growers. Other ingredients, such as vinegar, tomato paste, spices, or additives, are purchased from manufacturers in processed form.

Preparing the produce

  • 2 The tomatoes are first inspected, then peeled using lye. The stems, seeds, and any residual skin are then removed. Some salsa manufacturers roast their green chili peppers before washing them. Next, the stem, seeds, and calyx are removed. The chili peppers are then blanched, and the pH value, or acid count, is adjusted using citric acid.
  • 3 All other produce is cleaned by passing the vegetables through tanks of water or by spraying under high water pressure. The inedible parts of these vegetables (such as garlic peel, stems, or onion skins) are removed by processing machines. The vegetables are then cut using standard machines that are pre-set to the desired level of fineness. To make chunky salsa, the vegetables are usually diced while the fresh cilantro is minced. To make smoother salsa, all the vegetables are processed to the same consistency as the tomatoes.

Cooking the salsa

  • 4 Most salsa is not fresh due to long-distance transport of the product from manufacturing plants to retail outlets. Because it is important for the product to have a long shelf-life, heating the salsa is necessary to prohibit the growth of mold within the container before purchase. Most salsa, however, is minimally processed. The tomato paste or processed tomatoes, water, vinegar, and spices are placed in a pre-mix kettle that is large enough to hold several batches of salsa. This mixture is then placed in a batch kettle along with the other ingredients such as onions and chili peppers. Salsa may be slow or fast cooked, or, in the case of fresh salsa, steam cooked. Cooking time and temperature vary; the slow method subjects the salsa to a low temperature of 163 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) for 45 minutes, while the fast method subjects the salsa to a high temperature of 253 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) for 30 seconds under pressure.

Vacuum-sealing the salsa

  • 5 After cooking, the salsa is ladled into glass jars, plastic bottles, or other containers that are usually made from heat-resistant polyethylene or polypropylene. Fresh salsa is placed into the container cold and then steam heated, while cooked salsa is placed into the container while it is still warm. The machine that fills the containers does so by volume. The jars or containers are then sealed and cooled in cold water or air. This process vacuum-seals the product because the heated salsa cools and contracts, producing a partial vacuum under the seal.


  • 6 Jars and plastic containers that are not preprinted with product information are labeled and then packed in corrugated cardboard boxes to be shipped to stores.

Quality Control

As a food for human consumption, salsa must undergo rigorous testing to insure that each batch is sterile and safe. Salsa manufacturers that do not use preservatives in their product must be even more careful that mold does not grow during its shelf-life.

All incoming produce and spices must first be inspected for quality. To mass-produce salsa, an important criterion is that the vegetables be consistent so that batches will not differ in quality, color, or flavor. Consistency is very important in the case of chili peppers, as the degree of hotness must be in a stringently determined range. A jar of salsa labeled "mild" should have a slightly piquant flavor that does not overwhelm the timid salsa consumer. Conversely, a jar of salsa labeled "hot" should not disappoint the braver salsa consumer.

Chili peppers are selected by choosing specifically categorized seeds or germ plasm to be grown into the chili peppers intended for salsa. Chili peppers range in hotnessfrom the mild bell pepper to the hottest known pepper, the Scotch bonnetalthough most salsa manufacturers will only go as high as jalapefio. The system used to classify chili pepper hotness is the Scoville Units method. It determines the amount of water and time needed to neutralize the heat of the pepper after ingestion. The higher the Scoville Unit, the hotter the pepper. The hotter chili peppers are easily measured in the hundreds of thousands Scoville Units. Each type of pepper has several different levels of hotness to choose from, and the salsa manufacturer selects the peppers that will provide the necessary degree of hotness for each blend. Once the salsa is prepared, it is tasted by experienced tasters to see that it meets acceptable standards of flavor and hotness.

The equipment used to prepare salsa is cleaned and inspected daily. Equipment is cleaned with chlorides, quaternary ammonias, or any substance that is effective against bacteria, then rinsed thoroughly. A swab test, which consists of rubbing a cotton swab over a small surface area of the kettle, is then done for each kettle. The sample is then placed in a solution of known dilution, put on a dish, and placed in an laboratory incubator. After one or two days, the sample is checked for microbes. The number of harmful organisms is multiplied by the total affected surface area of the kettle to arrive at the total number of microbes. Many samples of finished salsa are taken, and the samples undergo the same treatment and testing as those samples taken from the equipment. Salsa factories are regularly inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as state food regulatory inspectors.

Where To Learn More


Birosik, P. J. Salsa. Macmillan Publishing, 1993.

Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. Doubleday, 1992.

Fischer, Lee. Salsa Lover's Cook Book. Golden West Publishers, n.d.

Leonard, Jonathan Norton. Latin American Cooking. Time-Life Books, 1968.

McMahan, Jacqueline H. The Salsa Book. The Olive Press, 1989.

Miller, Mark. The Great Salsa Book. Ten Speed Press, 1993.

Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.


O'Neill, Molly. "Salsa Nova," New York Times Magazine. June 14, 1992, p. 61.

Sokolov, Raymond. "Before the Conquest: Thousands of 'Mexican' Dishes Could Not Have Existed Before Cortes," Natural History. August, 1989, p. 76.

Stern, Gabriella. "Yanquis Are Finding Wide-Ranging Uses for Salsa and Picante," Wall Street Journal. January 19, 1993, pp. B1, B8.

Rose Secrest


views updated May 11 2018


Salsa is a hybrid genre of popular music and dance originating in urban Spanish-speaking communities of the Antilles and the United States, especially New York. Salsa, much like rock and hip hop, is also a meta-genre that involves particular ways of making music and moving the body that reflect specific cultural values, ranging from chivalrous machismo to an irrepressible celebration of life.

The music of Havana nightclubs and the New York jazz scene fused in the early twentieth century to create the foundations of salsa. Both Tito Puente (1923–2000), the New-York-born Puerto Rican known as the King of Salsa, and Celia Cruz (1925–2003), the Cuban-born Queen of Salsa (who thought of herself as a guaracha specialist), famously rejected the honorific labels and thought of salsa as fundamentally an Afro-Cuban-inspired musical confection born in New York in the 1960s. Cuban-born musicians such as Arsenio Rodriguez, Don Azpiazu, Frank "Machito" Grillo, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, and Mario Bauzá pioneered the fusion of Afro-Cuban music and Afro-American jazz between the 1930s and 1950s. Chano Pozo and Tito Puente revolutionized Latin pop before 1960 by using drums as lead instruments. The term salsa originated during the Cold War when the epicenter of Latin pop shifted from Havana to New York following the 1959 Cuban revolution and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Angel Quintero-Rivera (1998) argues that salsa became a popular response to the dissemination of rock music that arrived with Americanization in Puerto Rico and the expansion of U.S. military power in the region.

Overlapping musical tastes of Spanish-Caribbean women and men in New York created a market for upstart record companies, such as Fania (1960), the first salsa label, founded by the Dominican musician Johnny Ventura and his Italian-American lawyer, Jerry Masucci. Salsa incorporates Cuban mambo, son, rumba, and cha cha cha, as well as Puerto Rican bomba, plena, seis, and aguinaldo. Other flavorings come from Colombian cumbia and vallenato, and Brazilian samba and bossa nova. The musical foundation of salsa builds on African diasporic features such as call-and-response singing, and clave, a way of keeping time with a pair of sticks that puts varied emphasis on downbeats and upbeats (in patterns of 2-3 or 3-2). Together, these features make a home for polyrhythmic syncopation in salsa music, singing, and dancing.

Whereas men have historically been the instrumentalists, women singers and dancers have always been expected to have a deep know-how of the basic musical principles in salsa. Technical command is often coded as masculine, but salsa culture involves a more full-bodied experience that women have actively participated in creating. Salsa dancing, performed in couples with occasional apart dancing, derived from the quick-quick-slow steps of Cuban son and international mambo. Dancers often divide into two camps (either on-one or on-two, within the clave beat). International mambo is akin to salsa but considered a separate dance form in Cuba.

Salsa music developed mainly in the hands of men under patriarchal norms in twentieth-century Spanish-Caribbean communities, but feminist scholarship on salsa, starting in the early 1990s, critiques exclusive attention to men's participation and analyzes gender dynamics in salsa lyrics and dance styles. Writers such as Frances Aparicio and Mayra Santos-Febres show how working-class Afro-Puerto Rican women subversively coauthor the meanings of salsa lyrics written by men rather than passively accepting objectification. Marisol Berrios-Miranda, Priscilla Renta, and Juliet McMains argue that the corporal delights and rigors of salsa dancing provide vibrant counterpoints to masculine instrumentality. Awilda Sterling-Duprey and Marta Moreno Vega show how the valorization of women's bodies in salsa dancing and lyrical imagery can be seen as a commercial facade that masks spiritual principles of feminine divinity (e.g., Oshún) derived from west-African belief systems.

Whereas it is still customary for men to lead women in salsa dancing, there are growing countercultural trends that permit women to bend the rules, allowing them to lead while following, participation of same-sex pairs, and so forth. There have also been a growing number of remarkable women artists in every generation of Latin pop, starting with the all-female Anacaona conjunto in Cuba that began in the 1930s. Cruz started singing in the 1940s and performed until her passing in 2003. Her compatriot Guadalupe "La Lupe" Raymond was a major star in the 1960s and 1970s. Contemporary salseras that have defied gender norms and countered the macho posturing of male lyricists include Deddie Romero, Olga Tañon, Brenda K. Starr, Linda "La India" Caballero, Albita Rodriguez, and the multitalented Choco Orta who excels as a vocalist, dancer, and drummer.

see also Blues; Jazz; Opera; Rap Music.


Aparicio, Frances. 1998. Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.

Berrios-Miranda, Marisol. 2004. "Salsa Music as Expressive Liberation." Centro Journal 16(2): 158-173.

Boggs, Vernon. 1992. Salsiology: Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Calvo-Ospina, Hernando. 1995. Salsa: Havana Beat, Bronx Heat. London: Latin American Bureau.

Delgado, Celeste Fraser, and José Esteban Muñoz, eds. 1997. Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Duany, Jorge. 1984. "Popular Music in Puerto Rico: Toward an Anthropology of Salsa." Latin American Music Review 5(2): 186-216.

Loza, Steven. 1999. Tito Puente and the Making of Latin Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Manuel, Peter. 1995. Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

McMains, Juliet. 2006. "'Authenticity' in the Contemporary Salsa Dance Industry." Paper presented to the Latin American Studies Association, San Juan. 3/15.

Otero-Garabís, Juan. 1999. "Salsa." In Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, eds. Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

Otero-Garabís, Juan. 2000. Nación y Ritmo: "Descargas" desde el Caribe. San Juan: Ediciones Callejón.

Quintero-Herencia, Juan Carlos. 1997. "Notes toward a Reading of Salsa." In Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America, eds. Celeste Fraser Delgado and José Esteban Muñoz. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Quintero-Rivera, Angel. 1998. Salsa, Sabor y Control: Sociologia de la Musica Tropical. Havana, Cuba: Casa de las Americas.

Quiroga, José. 2000. Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New York: New York University Press.

Renta, Priscilla. 2004. "Salsa Dance: Latino/a History in Motion." Centro Journal 16(2): 138-157.

Rondón, Cesar Miguel. 1981. El libro de la salsa. Caracas: Editorial Arte.

Santos-Febres, Mayra. 1997. "Salsa as Translocation." In Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America, ed. Celeste Fraser Delgado and José Esteban Muñoz. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sloat, Susanna. 2003. Caribbean Dance from Abakuá to Zouk: How Movement Shapes Identity. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Sterling-Duprey, Awilda. 2002. "Del OriCha a La Orilla … Santos en Salsa." Caribbean Dance workshop at Long Island University.

Vega, Marta Moreno. 2004. When the Spirits Dance Mambo: Growing up Nuyorican in El Barrio. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Waxer, Lisa, ed. 2002. Situating Salsa: Global Markets and Local Meanings in Latin Popular Music. New York: Routledge.

                                               Halbert Barton


views updated May 23 2018

sal·sa / ˈsälsə/ • n. 1. a type of Latin American dance music incorporating elements of jazz and rock. ∎  a dance performed to this music.2. (esp. in Latin American cooking) a spicy tomato sauce.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Salsa ★★ 1988 (PG)

An auto repairman would rather dance in this “Dirty Dancing” clone. Rosa was formerly a member of the pop group Menudo. 97m/C VHS, DVD . Robby Rosa, Rodney Harvey, Magali Alvarado, Miranda Garrison, Moon Orona, Kamar De Los Reyes; D: Boaz Davidson; W: Boaz Davidson, Tomas Benitez.


views updated May 14 2018

salsa Term first used in the early 1970s for the Cuban-inspired music being produced in New York. Salsa is a percussive and brass-led big-band music. It embraces dance forms, including rumba, mambo and guaracha.