Hot, spicy and savory, that's what Mexican salsa is
By Celia Marín Original Print Publication: February, 2009
"Salsas are a fundamental part not only of gastronomy, but also of religion, a part which was lost over the course of time," explains Gerardo Chapa, author of the book One Hundred Salsas. "They were so important that the calzontzin, chiefs of the purépecha [an indigenous group from Michoacán], always had a female servant called ayamati, whose sole duty was to serve salsas to her master bare-breasted - a blend of eroticism and culinary refinement."
Capsaicin is the alkaloid that makes chili peppers hot.
When passing through Cholula on the way to Tenochtitlan in the 16th century, Bernal Diazdel Castillo claimed to have escaped having his own flesh cooked and doused with salsa. The locals, he wrote, "wanted to kill us and eat our meat" and "they already had the pots boiling with salt and garlic and tomatoes." Despite the threat, he kept his cool and described a salsa called chimole that was made of chili peppers, tomato and salt - the same basic ingredients found in contemporary Mexican salsa.
All over the country
Salsas are particular to the regional cuisines of Mexico. In northern Mexico, they add a bit of melted cheese; in the middle of the country they prepare salsa with pasilla - a dark green chili that turns black when it's dried - accompanied by quesocotija - a hard, Parmesan-like cheese. Hidalgo's xoconostle salsa is made with the morita chili and goes perfectly with barbacoa. In the south, you'll often find salsas seasoned with pepper and achiote, orannatto, seeds that create a yellow hue.
Ingenious new twists pop up all the time. Salsa innovators use guava with mint, red chinicuile worms and jumiles - a grasshopper-like insect, mango with apple, and habanero chili with pineapple and basil.
When you sit down to eat, remember that there's no such thing as a good taco or quesadilla without a spicy salsa.