Posted October 28, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Salsa spices dishes

Advocate Food editor

Hot-sauce historians aren’t sure just what it is that has fueled the explosive growth of salsa (also known as picante sauce) consumption in the United States.
David Pace, the creator of Pace Picante Sauce, which is what Pace called the zesty blend of tomatoes, onions and jalapeños he created in 1947, said in a 1992 interview with Dave DeWitt, co-founder of Chile Pepper magazine and editor of http://www.Fiery-Foods.com, that it was the 1970s hippies who boosted sales of picante sauce. “No question but this health stuff made the whole category explode,” Pace explained.

The salsa entrepreneur believed that the interest in natural foods and eating more vegetables — the whole foods movement that swept the country — encouraged consumers to try new foods. And, when they experienced the fresh taste of picante sauce, they liked it, Pace said.

DeWitt agrees with Pace, but he also asked a global trend-watcher, Nelson Thall, president of the Marshall McLuhan Center for Global Communications in Toronto, Canada, to offer an explanation for the ever-increasing popularity of hot sauces and fiery foods. “Americans are becoming more ‘tribal’ in their tastes,” said Thall. “And tribal Third World cultures embrace spicier foods.”

While Thall’s opinion is colorful, there are factors even in mainstream American culture contributing to the continuing popularity and increasing sales of picante sauce or salsa: the nation’s burgeoning Hispanic minority, who identify the spicy tomato sauces as part of their traditional cuisines; an aging population, which wants more spice and “heat” in their foods to enliven dulled tastebuds; everyone’s reduced time for cooking, which has been addressed by the picante sauce manufacturers in developing and promoting quick-fix, few-ingredient recipes that can be easily assembled in 30 minutes or less; and the successes of multimillion-dollar national advertising and marketing campaigns for salsas and picante sauces in introducing and popularizing the products.

Today, salsas and picante sauces are as familiar as Campbell’s Tomato Soup. In the case of Pace Foods, the comparison of Pace Picante Sauce with the convenience food icon, Campbell’s Tomato Soup, is significant because Campbell’s bought Pace Foods from the Pace family in San Antonio in 1994 for $1.1 billion.

Under the Campbell umbrella, Pace Picante Sauce has maintained its status as the No. 1 selling picante sauce. Other nationally distributed brands include Old El Paso, Frito-Lay, Chi-Chi’s, La Victoria, Ortega, Herdez and Newman’s Own.

All of the salsa manufacturers have broadened their product lines: Consumers will now find salsas with chipotle peppers, lime juice, cilantro, cactus; and various fruits, including peaches, plums, raisins and more. The possibilities are endless and apparently so is the market demand.

From a health perspective, the commercially bottled salsas are low in calories. A 2-tablespoon serving of Pace Picante Sauce has only 10 calories, 0 grams fat, 1 gram fiber, 0 grams cholesterol, 2 grams total carbohydrate and 230 milligrams sodium.

An unopened jar of salsa will keep in the cupboard for 6 months. Food Lover’s Companion writer Sharon Tyler Herbst recommends refrigerating salsa for up to one month after it is opened.

There are dozens of picante sauce- and salsa-based recipes available on the Internet. Cooks can subscribe to recipe clubs on several sites. Do a search for picante sauce or salsa, and you’ll find hundreds of sites that offer lots of possibilities for family meals and entertaining.

The Advocate Food staff tested several picante sauce- and salsa-based recipes and found a few more recipes that look cook-friendly. Enjoy!

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog