We’re guessing, but odds are that in Wisconsin or Ohio, salsa is just salsa. Not so in Texas (surprise!), where folks devote plenty of time figuring out where to find the hottest or mildest around town. We’ll even go so far as to say that many Texans have their own “secret” salsa recipe (as in they’re not sharing it with their neighbors). But like many esteemed foods in Texas, this one originated south of the border.
Experts believe that the ancient Indian civilizations of Mexico and Central America—the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas—began cultivating chile crops between 5200 and 3400 BC, making it one of the first domesticated crops in the Americas. The Indians then combined chiles and tomatoes, creating the first salsa and thus setting the stage for what would become a Tex-Mex staple.
It’s unclear exactly when salsa made it from ancient civilizations to Texas, but it wasn’t until 1947 that large-scale salsa manufacturing began in the Lone Star State. David Pace, whose family owned a syrup and jelly company in San Antonio, returned home from World War II and took over the family business. He decided that “the real ‘syrup’ of Texas was picante sauce,” according to the Pace Foods Web site. So Pace began experimenting with different foods and came up with his signature Pace Picante sauce. Once the product hit the market, the demand was so high the company dropped all other ventures and concentrated solely on its picante sauce. The size of the salsa market has grown significantly since Pace’s commercial introduction, and salsa now outsells ketchup in grocery stores.
The word “salsa” directly translates to “sauce,” in Spanish, and while that’s exactly what it is, Texans know salsa is more complicated than that. There are many different kinds of salsa, ranging from what the main ingredients are to whether the salsa is canned or fresh (known as salsas frescas). Tomato-based salsas are still king in Texas, but variations are turning up more frequently—think mango, apple, or papaya. One thing will never change: Texans love salsa.
Is your mouth on fire? Follow these tips:
Don’t drink water. The capsaicin (the “hot” element from the chile) is an oil and water will only work to move it around.
Drink milk or eat yogurt or sour cream. All of these contain a certain protein that breaks down the bond between the capsaicin and your mouth’s pain receptors.
Eat bread or rice, both of which absorb the capsaicin.
Drink tomato, lime, or lemon juice. The acidity will neutralize the capsaicin.