America’s Favorite Condiment Is A Low-Calorie Sauce, Dip & Ingredient
CAPSULE REPORT: There’s a reason why salsa is America’s best-selling condiment. For almost no calories, you get good tomato flavor, as much heat as you want (or don’t want), vitamins A and C, and lots of variety. Go to a few different specialty food stores, and you can have a different flavor of salsa every night of the month, from smoky chipotle to sweet peach. Far beyond Mexican food and tortilla chips, salsa is a sauce for meat and fish, vegetables, rice—even a dip for fries. And, while it’s a dip by itself, it mixes with other dip material—sour cream and mayonnaise—to create creamy sauces. All of our selections would make nice salsa gifts for your favorite salsa lover, vegetarian or dieter. Green Mountain Gringo is kosher.
There are hundreds of brands of salsa for sale in the U.S. From supermarket brands to specialty brands, salsas have basic ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and chiles. While It’s hard to make bad salsa from such simple ingredients, specialty brands use better ingredients and more complex seasonings, and taste distinctly better. (They are also all-natural, which means preservative-free, among other things.)
The brands in today’s tasting have been around for a while and have many fans. They’re red salsas, salsas rojas, which mean they’re tomato based. While the ingredients are similar, the flavor profiles are very different, thanks to varying spices and other seasonings. It’s important to point out that these are cooked salsas: In order to be shelf-stable, food has to be cooked to a certain point. The vegetables thus have a different consistency, and the sauces a different personality, than the salsas crudas, raw salsas, that are offered at Mexican restaurants.
Beyond Mexico, each Latin American country has its own specialty salsa that tends to be the “national condiment.” Ingredients vary widely, from the chimichurri sauce of Argentina and Paraguay—a spicy parsley vinaigrette—to Peru’s peri-peri sauce (which some people think is going to be the next big thing in the U.S.), a thick sauce based on oil and vinegar but colored and flavored by garlic, chiles and other spices.
Americans are mostly familiar with one type of red Mexican salsa and its many different flavor variations. There are actually many variations of salsa in Mexico: Each region has its own specialty, and tomatoes are not a primary salsa ingredient in most areas. Tomato salsas are more common in northern Mexico, where the recipe crossed the Rio Grande and became part of the Tex-Mex cuisine that Americans have come to know.
Proving that salsa is America’s favorite condiment no matter what part of the country you live in, we tasted three brands, from Fort Worth, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and greater Chicago. They are presented in alphabetical order.
El Gringo Loco Salsa
The “crazy gringo” in Warrenville, Illinois, outside of Chicago, makes Salsa Chikagwana, a veggie salsa with medium spiciness. It’s a beautiful-looking salsa, with whole white beans, diced carrots, onions, tomatoes and even the minced garlic clearly articulated. It could pass as a side dish, like a riff on ratatouille; but one bite, and you know that nothing this spicy is ever served as a side. It’s so thick, it doesn’t run, so would keep its shape mounded atop a chop or a piece of fish.
El Gringo Loco: A thick, beautiful, wall-to-wall veggie salsa. Photos by Victoria Marshman.
If you want a particularly mild salsa, try the Mild. The line is kosher, too.
Green Mountain Gringo Salsa
Our next group of gringos makes four salsas in a traditional consistency, but with a flavor twist true to their roots. There’s apple cider vinegar in the recipe, which gives this line a touch of sweetness with no sugar added (and the rather unusual, but nice, flavor profile of apple cider vinegar). The Medium is rather mild, and the Mild is very mild. Hot is hot; Roasted Chile and Roasted Garlic are medium-strength. The product is called Green Mountain because it was created in the kitchen of a Vermont farmhouse in 1989, using ingredients fresh from the garden. As the business grew, it relocated to production facilities in North Carolina—still authentic gringos. Certified kosher (pareve) by The United States K. While you’re ordering, be sure to try the Tortilla Strips—not chips, but 1½"x3¼" rectangles. They look great for parties! The chips are certified kosher (pareve) by the OU.
Mrs. Renfro’s is the senior statesman of the group, founded in 1940. The company began making Mexican foods in 1972, anticipating the changing American palate; it now makes 13 flavors of salsa, including an extra-hot Green Salsa. In addition to Mild, Medium and Hot, there’s the fruit salsa group (Mango Habañero Salsa, Peach Salsa, Raspberry Chipotle Salsa) and the savory salsa group (Black Bean Salsa, Chipotle Corn Salsa, Garlic Salsa, Habañero Salsa and Roasted Salsa). There’s a recipe on every jar, tailored to the flavor; and we’ve included some below. Mrs. Renfro’s salsas are very smooth—true “sauces,” almost like purées with vegetables added in for extra flavor and eye appeal. You can use these sauces on top of any meat or vegetable, and no one will think “salsa and chips.”
A flavor for everyone, and nice gift quartets.
Of particular note, the Roasted Salsa has an exquisite smoky flavor, like a thick, epicurean adobo sauce. For those who like it hot, the Mango Habañero Salsa adds a touch of sweet tropical fruit to a hot habañero sauce. Our first impression was of a very hot sweet-and-sour sauce—the mild Peach Salsa, by comparison seemed like child’s play.
Shop Online At RenfroFoods.com
(4-jar minimum online purchase, your choice, packaged in nice box)