Salsa Has Ancient Roots

salsa_in_hellThe remains of seven different varieties of chiles found in a cave in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico have led researcher Linda Perry to theorize that early farmers were eating the early forms of salsa.  Perry is a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution who developed the technique of determining the type of plants in ancient bowls by analyzing starch grains found in their residue. Three decades ago, archaeological materials and artifacts were found in Guila Naquitz cave near Mitla by University of Michigan archaeologist Kent Flannery. They were never analyzed until Perry perfected her technique. Then Flannery sent the artifacts to Perry.  She theorizes that the chiles were being ground up with other ingredients such as tropical fruits to make a “proto-salsa.”  She noted: “Archaeologists have always felt that chile peppers were very important and became important early.”

Perry believes that the farmers along a nearby river were using the caves for shelter and eating.  “What was interesting to me was that we were able to determine that they were using the peppers both dried and fresh,” Perry said. (Chilies broken while fresh had a recognizable breakage pattern.)  “It shows us that ancient Mexican food was very much like today. They would have used fresh peppers in salsas or in immediate preparation, and they would have used the dried peppers to toss into stews or to grind up into sauces like moles.” has a great selection of salsas to choose from, here. Or, you can make your own!

The Salsa with Six Names
Chips and SalsaThis blend of hot chiles and fresh garden vegetables is known both north and south of the border as salsa fresc­a, pico de gallo, salsa cruda, salsa fresca, salsa mexicana, and salsa picante. No matter what it’s called, or what part of the Southwest it’s from, the Salsa with Six Names will always triumph over bottled salsas for the dipping of tostadas, as a taco sauce, or a relish for roasted or grilled meats.  The key to proper preparation is to never use a food processor or blender.   A marvelous consistency will be achieved by taking the time to chop or mince every ingredient by hand.

6 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped very fine
1 large onion, chopped very fine
2 medium tomatoes, chopped very fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons (or less to taste) red wine vinegar or lime juice

Mix all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl.  Let stand at room temperature for at least one hour before serving.
Serve with tortilla chips as a dip.  This salsa is also good with tacos, burritos, and fajitas.

Yield: 2 cups
Heat Scale: Medium


For more great salsa recipes, click on the image above.

AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.


  1. There will always be debate about salsa fresca because it depends upon what is grown locally where the salsa is made. In Guanajuato state, there is always tomatillo and tomato in salsa fresca.

  2. That is a wonderful recipe. However I make it molcajete made of Lava, as the minerals in the lava are important to the human body. Then I finish this wonderful treat/dip with a sprinkle of capers on top. It looks and tastes fantastic. So unusual in our northern world.
    Happy eating, Susi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content