The Salsa Manifesto | John Snyder

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John W. Snyder



The origin of all which is seemingly constructed should be considered in its entirety, as should that out of which what is in question is made; therefore, a brief definition of the terms to be considered is required. Despite this preliminary requirement, it is necessary to recall the purpose before we engage ourselves in the prospective issue—being respectively, the composition of salsa and what can be considered a part of salsa before the additions change the basic formation of salsa (and therefore arrest the status of the dish in question). Salsa is a versatile creation that, despite needing to comply with certain unchangeable rules, is free to be experimented and tinkered with and could indeed contain meat. 

To start: the definition. Salsa is, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, “a spicy sauce made esp. of tomatoes, onions, and chilies, that you put on Mexican foods.”[1] What is in question is not the composition itself, but what specifically is in and can be included in the composition. We are, with reference to the preceding quote, all in agreement with what salsa is, but not of what salsa can be made. Since there are salsas without tomatoes[2],[3], it is clear that tomatoes are not necessary. If we look back on the provided definition from the Cambridge dictionary, we see that the ingredients listed (tomatoes, onions, and chilis) are marked as “esp.”, meaning “especially”, or in other words, particularly. Yes, there are other possible translations of the word in question but let us first look at the implications. Other definitions of “especially” are focused on the necessity or the significance of the item in question. Now, since the necessity has been refuted (see footnote 2), we are left with second and last remaining option: the significance. 

The significance of an item is difficult to prove, but I will nonetheless attempt to do so, as it is necessary to our argument. To begin we will re-examine the provided definition for salsa: “a spicy sauce made esp. of tomatoes, onions, and chilies, that you put on Mexican foods.”[4] Clearly, when examining the definition closely, we find that salsa, like salad, is quite versatile. We need to keep in mind that salsa means “sauce” in Spanish[5], along with other forms of the word “sauce” (such as gravy when combined with meat[6] and the salsa which we are discussing[7]). Since we are only discussing the composition of the last definition, we will discard the two former translations. 

Given that the word in question is translated to mean what we associate to be salsa, we now can infer that our definition of salsa differs from the traditional Spanish definition of salsa, for if the two concepts were one and the same, there would be no differentiation between the two. In the interest of further explanation and clarification, allow me to go off on a tangent. A number (x) of concepts, when completely similar in every fashion, become one through their one-ness—their similarity. When there is even the slightest significant difference [excluding descriptors—adjectives, adverbs, and the like (and therefore bringing our x number of concepts about which this side-note concerns itself to the most basic ideas with some allowance for specificity and directness)—and other forms of designation including especially enumeration and related concepts] between x number of concepts, there is a need for differentiation and specification. When the difference is not necessary in any form, then the specification is not needed and not included. Imagine now that the concepts are the words salsa and its American adoption. By this logic, we know that the definitions for the Spanish word salsa and the adopted form of the same word are different. One refers to the original idea of the dish, 

and the other refers to the adopted concept of the “original” idea. The difference lies in their significance—the intent or the minute details of each form and meaning of the word.  

Description: Related imageIt has been proven that the words of the Mexican (being related to the Spanish language) and American dialects are significantly different, but we must now ask ourselves from where the divide originates. In the last paragraph, I claimed that what we are currently discussing was due to the minute details of each form and meaning of the word. This is a base fact and will be scrutinized in detail. To start, that which a word is can be clarified by its use. Granted, not simply anything would go in the salsa, for Mexican cuisine is specific (like many other, if not all, cuisines) and uses certain basic ingredients for the majority of its cooking. We see that the Mexican cuisine is largely based off maize with various vegetables and fruits[8]. This is certainly true and is applicable to both definitions of salsa. The majority of something does not need to be included in all that is considered to be part of that from which the majority obtains it status. This is to say that, of a group, the majority does not fully represent the group, nor can it be said that So that this fact may labeled as true, we will now consider figure 1 and figure 2 for a moment, which are respectively shown below. 

Description: Image result for venn diagramFigure 1:                                                                                Figure 2:

Figure 1[9] depicts a triple Venn diagram with items A, B, and C. Figure 2[10] depicts Venn diagrams A, B, and C with items A and B shown in different relationships. In figure 1, we see that items A, B, and C are a majority in their most pure form (meaning where they do not overlap with any other items), but the items in question are not exactly like their combined forms (i.e. the parts that overlap with other items). It is precisely the observable and variable difference and similarity in each group (when, of course, compared with another of the same diagram) that warrants the specification, for without the specification of , we would not be able to differentiate between item A, item B, and the conjoined item that is . 

This is the logic behind the separation and distinction of the other items. In figure two, we observe just that being applied, albeit in a more complicated manner. The sections labeled as “Unique to [item]” are marked so to demonstrate their distinct nature and their differentiation from what is . This specific differentiation is similar to the detailing in figure 2, diagrams B and C. What is marked to be separate in diagram B of figure 2—specifically the area that is marked as  is shown to be a different creation from , , and “unique to A and B”.  This demonstrates the uniqueness of each section (with respect to what they owe their basic forms of A and B) in their nomenclature. In diagram C of the same figure, this principle of nomenclature is further explained by the use of a concrete difference between the two parts (represented by the dashed line). That which is  is marked as similar to what is unique to item A, but is completely different in its A-ness and content of B-ness from what is  and unique to item B. This last diagram C best emulates the principle of the difference between the majority of something and what is the entirety (all which has a share in a concept in any way, shape, or form) of the same thing. We can now say that the significance—the difference of something—is due to the minute details of each form and meaning of the word. 

Let us now return to the idea of salsa—a traditionally spicy sauce made especially of tomatoes, onions, and chilis. The definition of “especially” as “significantly” is somewhat lacking in clarity here. It—being “especially”—has been proven to read “a major (common) component of which is”, if you will recall paragraphs 2 and 3. Given the proof that majority components are not always present in all that exists of a certain item, we can now infer that salsa being open to many different cuisines does exist. Indeed, this includes different ingredients of the same cuisine, since we have proven that salsa is not limited to even those most basic listed ingredients.  We must now explore what makes salsa that which it is in an attempt to find the point at which it ceases to become salsa and becomes instead some foreign creation. 

For the Americans, the salsa which we know is (in majority) pico de gallo or salsa cruda, which are both traditionally raw mixes of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chilis, and occasionally lime juice or salt. These “off-brand” condiments are typically found in grocery stores or any given non-authentic Mexican restaurant. These salsas are only a small look into the entirely of salsa in Mexican cuisine. It is clear that any cuisine, when forced to contact another, adapts slightly to meet that new stimulation. This has been done with Mexican food and American food. For example, look at Taco Bell. This Americanized fast-food restaurant is surely not wholly Mexican in its food, nor is it entirely American. It is Mexican-American, like the salsa we find in our stores and in American culture today[11]. With this information, we can reasonably extrapolate that the Mexican-American salsa found in our stores and on our shelves are not authentic in their wholeness, nor can or should they be expected to speak for what makes true salsa be so great. This demonstrates that the Americanized form of salsa is not fully American, nor is it fully Mexican. It is, in other words, not “unique to B”, to reference the charts from earlier. We have answered one part of the previous question, but we are still left with, “What constitutes real salsa?” To answer this, we will start at the beginning and apply our recently gained knowledge. 

Traditionally, salsa was a simple combination of tomatoes, chilis, and other spices that can be traced back to the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Incas[12]. The dish was probably used as an aid in warding off or curing maladies, for, “[the chilies] stimulate the digestive organs, especially the liver."[13] Now, this is of no real value that directly concerns the answer to our question, but it does reveal that the origins were quite simple, which gives up some quite important information. This very first idea of the condiment cannot be expected to answer our question, for all modern salsas would be ruled out on the basis of differing ingredients alone (setting aside the intent and the formation of the more modern versions). We now know that the most ancient idea of salsa is not what it is today. We also know that this makes clear the point of origin of the idea of salsa.  

The vast variety of salsas indicate that the idea of salsa is up for interpretation. Different people certainly have ideas on what does and what does not constitute a salsa. Perhaps salsa is definite and there is only one form of salsa. Perhaps salsa is a variation on Sorites’ Paradox. What’s clear is that salsa does have some basic rules that act as a guideline to creating and adding ingredients to a salsa. This is where we will answer our question, in an attempt to make explicit those rules. Firstly, it is clear that salsa must be fresh. The second rule, however, is more difficult. The cooking and subsequent canning or jarring of salsa that is cruda is not permissible. To clarify, the cooking of the entirety or of the ingredients of a salsa cruda defeats the purpose of such a salsa. It is, however, possible to grill the salsa or to bake it as part of another dish in the Mexican cuisine[14] (and so an amendment must be made). The second rule must then be that salsa may not be cooked or grilled independently, but only as a whole; though, the ingredients themselves may be cooked or grilled independently before assembly.  Thirdly, the base must be of a fruit or vegetable, and so must the majority of the dish. Meat may be used as a base, but then the salsa becomes what English calls “gravy”, and the “salsa” would therefore become a sauce. As this does not form a distinct category from the salsa that is of a Spanish or Mexican definition, it is still technically a salsa (but not one that is recognized as so by the English language). The fourth rule is that “wet” or dried (but fresh) ingredients make no difference, as long as the salsa can serve its intended purpose. The fifth rule is that spices, herbs, and peppers are mandatory in at least some context or form of presence. For the sixth and final rule, the salsa may be chunky, but may not be too watery, as too much liquid defeats the purpose of calling the concoction a salsa and turns it into what is better recognized as a sauce or marinade. As long as these basic rules are followed, anything can be added into a salsa (such as a meat product or some invention on a grain) and the creation may be called such. Logically, once the rules have been breached, it cannot be designated as salsa. 

Simply put, salsa is a complex creation with many centuries of development and experimentation behind it. Our ultimate question has been answered; we know that a salsa must adhere to a set of rules (which are ultimately more like guidelines) that govern the status of the dish. We have shown that the definition of salsa does not necessarily fit every form of salsa. We have shown that major sections or categories are not all-encompassing, especially in the realm of food and culture. We have shown that differing foods and cultures do have an impact on a dish, but do not completely re-invent it altogether. Finally, we have shown that salsa is versatile and has the capacity to be adapted to different cuisines and requirements; in other words, yes—salsa can indeed contain meat. 
































Works Cited



A Hyatt Verrill, Foods America Gave the World, p. 34-5; 37


Cambridge Dictionary, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 21, 2018,


Champion, Lindsay. “7 Easy Salsa Recipes That Have Nothing to Do with Tomatoes.” Pure Wow. May 3, 2016.


Pilcher, Jeffrey M. "Tamales or Timbales: Cuisine and the Formation of Mexican National Identity, 1821-1911." The Americas53, no. 2 (1996): 193-216. doi:10.2307/1007616.


Smith, Andrew F., ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)


Word Reference, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 22, 2018,





[1] Cambridge Dictionary, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 21, 2018,

[2]Trader Joe’s Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa

[3] Champion, Lindsay, “7 Easy Salsa Recipes That Have Nothing to Do with Tomatoes,” Pure Wow, May 3, 2016.

[4] Cambridge Dictionary, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 21, 2018,

[5] Word Reference, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 22, 2018,

[6] Word Reference, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 22, 2018,

[7] Word Reference, s.v “Salsa” accessed December 22, 2018,

[8] Pilcher, Jeffrey M. "Tamales or Timbales: Cuisine and the Formation of Mexican National Identity, 1821-1911." The Americas53, no. 2 (1996): 195-198 doi:10.2307/1007616.

[9] Figure 1: Retrieved from on December 22, 2018

[11] Andrew F. Smith, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

[12] A. Hyatt Verrill, Foods America Gave the World, 34-35

[13] A. Hyatt Verrill, Foods America Gave the World,  37

[14]  See “Roasted Tomato Salsa” by Jenn Segal

Jack Snyder is a senior Philosophy and Creative Writing major at Susquehanna University. In his free time, he reads anything he can get his hands on, writes philosophical essays, and performs poetry.

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