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Salsa is any one of several sauces typical of Mexican cuisine, also known as salsa fresca, hot salsa or salsa picante, particularly those used as dips. Salsa is often tomato-based, and includes ingredients such as onions, chilies, an acid and herbs. It is typically piquant, ranging from mild to extremely hot. Though many different sauce preparations are called salsa in Spanish, in English, it generally refers to raw or near-raw sauces used as dips.
The word salsa entered the English language from the Spanish salsa ("sauce"), which itself derives from the Latin salsus (salted). The native Spanish pronunciation is [ˈsalsa]. In American English it is pronounced //, while in British English it is pronounced as //.
Mexican salsas were traditionally produced using the mortar and pestle-like molcajete, although blenders are now more commonly used. The Maya made salsa also, using a mortar and pestle. Well-known salsas include:
Outside Mexico and Central America, the following salsas are common to each of the following regions; in Argentina and the Southern Cone, chimichurri sauce is common. Chimichurri is "a spicy vinegar-parsley sauce that is the salsa (and leading condiment) in Argentina and Uruguay, served with grilled meat. It is made of chopped fresh parsley and onion, seasoned with garlic, oregano, salt, cayenne chilies and black pepper and bound with oil and vinegar." In Costa Rica, dishes are prepared with salsa Lizano, a thin, smooth, light brown sauce. In Cuba and the Caribbean, a typical salsa is mojo. Unlike the tomato-based salsas, mojo typically consists of olive oil, garlic, and citrus juice, and is used both to marinate meats and as a dipping sauce. In Peru, a traditional salsa is peri peri or piri piri sauce: "The national condiment of Peru, peri-peri sauce is made in medium to hot levels of spiciness—the more chili, or the hotter variety of chile used, the hotter the sauce. Original peri-peri uses the African bird’s eye chili (the Swahili word for the chili is peri-peri). Milder sauces may use only cayenne and serrano chilies. To a base of vinegar and oil, garlic and lemon juice are added, plus other seasonings, which often include paprika or tomato paste for flavor and color, onions and herb—each company has its own recipe. It is also used as a cooking sauce."
Most jarred, canned, and bottled salsa and picante sauces sold in the United States in grocery stores are forms of salsa cruda or pico de gallo, and typically have a semi-liquid texture. To increase their shelf lives, these salsas have been cooked to a temperature of 175 °F (79 °C), and are thus not truly cruda (raw). Some have added vinegar, and some use pickled peppers instead of fresh ones. Tomatoes are strongly acidic by nature, which, along with the heat processing, is enough to stabilize the product for grocery distribution.
Picante sauce of the American type is often thinner in consistency than what is labelled as "salsa". Picante is a Spanish adjective meaning "piquant", which derives from picar ("to sting"), referring to the feeling caused by salsas on one's tongue.
Many grocery stores in the United States and Canada 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.
Taco sauce is a condiment sold in American grocery stores and fast food Tex-Mex outlets. 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.
While some salsa fans do not consider jarred products to be real salsa cruda, their widespread availability and long shelf life have been credited with much of salsa's enormous popularity in states outside the southwest, especially in areas where salsa is not a traditional part of the cuisine. In 1992, the dollar value of salsa sales in the United States exceeded those of tomato ketchup.
The World Health Organization says care should be taken in the preparation and storage of salsas and any other types of sauces, since many raw-served varieties can act as growth media for potentially dangerous bacteria, especially when unrefrigerated.
A 2010 paper on salsa food hygiene described refrigeration as "the key to safe" sauces. This study also found that fresh lime juice and fresh garlic (but not powdered garlic) would prevent the growth of bacteria.
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