Salsas and Sauces

Can you imagine walking into a Mexican restaurant and not finding salsa in the menu or at least as a side dish/topping to a meal? Just that thought seems weird enough. There’s no need for a discussion because really, salsa is the thing that makes a Mexican Cuisine.  Although the word “salsa” that means “sauce” has a Spanish root, salsa the dish has been served in Mexican homes for thousands of years.  Mexicans utilize the salsas as an actual ingredient or a simple condiment. The combination of tomatoes, chilies and some other spices was actually consumed by the Ancient Aztecs to which the dish can be traced. It was only later, in 1571, that is was named as Salsa, by Alonso de Molina. Salsas are almost always spicy because of the chili content.

The salsa of today is a fusion of the Old and New World origin.  While tomatoes, tomatillos, and chilies are found in the New World, onions, garlic and other spices originated from the Old World. Time and again, it is mentioned that Mexican cuisine is heavily influenced by Aztec, Spanish, French, Italian, and Austrian cooking. Yet, it is Spain’s influence that carried on the Mexican food culture through the years.

To prepare a Mexican dish can be laborious.  Mexicans take pride to the fact that they prepare their food traditionally from scratch and with the help of tools.  Fresh salsa for instance was once made using a molcajete and a tejolote, an instrument that has been used for 3,500 years. The modern day equivalent of this is the mortar and pestle.

There are two types of salsa: the more common fresh, uncooked ones known as salsa fresca, and the cooked ones. As salsas are known to have bursting flavors, both types can be hot, spicy, sweet or tangy. Ingredients vary depending on regional availability and preferences.  Chilies for instance have over 30 variants in Mexico but the usual choices for salsa are ajis (mild and fruity), serranos (medium spicy), jalapeños and chipotles (smoked jalapeños) and the habañeros (extra hot). Spices and seasonings can be cumin, cilantro, annatto, avocado, cassava, fruits and fresh lime juice.

When speaking of salsas, immediately what comes to mind is fresh red salsa called salsa fresca or salsa cruda – the uncooked mixture of tomatoes, chilies and spices kind. This type of salsa is the perfect accompaniment for any Mexican dish or just to a basic basket of tortilla chips. Guacamole, made with avocado, tomatoes, chilies, onions and cilantro, is a fresh salsa. Salsa verde, the tomatillo based kind, is another example of fresh salsa.

Cooked salsa, on the other hand, use roasted tomatoes and roasted or dried chilies.  To ensure longer shelf-life, salsa ingredients must be briefly exposed to high heat before jarring or canning.  There are also variations in terms of texture, consistency and level of spiciness.  Cooked salsa is as delicious and mouth-watering as the salsa fresca.

There is nothing to be guilty about in consuming fresh salsa. This dish actually contains more than 120 known health benefits. Most of its ingredients are considered antioxidants that help fight cancer. Tomato alone is already rich in vitamins & minerals (A, C, K, Calcium and Niacin) and is a known source of the phytonutrient  Lycopene, an antioxidant.  Tomato works to cleanse the blood and helps clear skin because of its antiseptic properties.  It reduces cholesterol and avoids gallstones, hemorrhages and liver congestion. More recently, studies show that tomatoes help fight cancer of the prostate and colon.

The antioxidant Capsaicin is found in Pepper. This antioxidant is a crystalline alkaloid that gives relief from allergies, pain, ulcers, colitis, headaches and congestion.  At the same time, peppers can lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clotting and stroke while increasing metabolism and fighting bacteria.  As an antioxidant, it helps prevent cancer of the thyroid, stomach, intestine and prostate.

In onions, there is the antioxidant Quercetin, that which fights off cancer of the ovaries, breast, lung and bladder.  Onions are also rich in Vitamins C and E plus the minerals Potassium, Fiber and Folic Acid and have antimicrobial agents. Onions relieve congestion & allergies, reduce cholesterol, and avoid cataracts, atherosclerosis & coronary heart disease.  Eating onions also helps to flush out heavy metals from the body.

Garlic helps fight cancer of the stomach through the help of the antioxidant Allicin.  Unique health benefits are enjoyed when garlic is consumed raw, cooked or in aged form like lowering blood pressure and cholesterol while also cleansing the liver.  Garlic has antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal and anti-parasitic properties.

Cilantro has multiple antioxidants – camphor, carvone and geraniol among others.  It is known to be a natural internal and external deodorizer probably because of its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It gives relief from nausea, indigestion and bloating and helps cure urinary tract infections.

Cumin is rich in Iron that improves digestion, strengthens the immune system and helps fight liver cancer.  Gray Sea Salt on the other hand stabilizes blood pressure and sugar level while also helping to clear the lungs and sinuses.  It generates hydroelectric energy that improves absorption and nerve cell communication.

Both lemon and lime juice have antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties that make them great natural cleaning agents as well. Lime juice has potassium and cleanses the blood and liver.  Lemon juice on the other hand is rich in Vitamin C and has an alkalizing effect on the body.  It relieves stomachache and helps prevent osteoarthritis, diabetes, atherosclerosis and kidney stones.

Avocado contains Lutein, Vitamin E, monounsaturated fat and Magnesium.  These elements improve skin clarity and tone, and fights cancer of the mouth, breast and prostate. Extra virgin olive oil contains a healthy fatty acid called Oleic acid. It helps in maintaining blood pressure, avoiding asthma & arthritis, and preventing & treating diabetes.  It also helps fight cancer of the breast and ovaries. Finally, apple cider vinegar helps reduce cholesterol, calcium deposits, acne, allergies, and blood sugar. It heals allergies and eases food poisoning & muscle fatigue.

So the next time you reach for that oh-so-delicious salsa bowl, fret not because it can actually help you live a healthy lifestyle.