A Brief History of Chips and Salsa

The backstory on this power couple


For Texans, chips and salsa don't need an introduction. We've all been guilty of spoiling our supper when one chip becomes a hundred, but what's the backstory on this power couple?

Although its roots can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerica, salsa's transformation from sauce to dip took a while. This essential American party snack is something out of the ordinary in Latin America, where instead of a standalone, you'd see it included inside a variety of dishes. The Aztecs' condiment closest to our modern Tex-Mex table staple also included tomatoes and chiles, but they threw in squash seeds. In 1571, Alonso de Molina, a linguistically inclined priest, deemed it "salsa."

As the ingredients became domesticated, their wider availability helped transport Mexican cuisine to the United States. Although bottled hot sauces like Tabasco were already making their way to the table by the late 1800s, salsa as a dip began to take hold in the early 1900s, when they found their place in community cookbooks. By the Forties, salsa had taken hold throughout the Southwest and quickly became a staple in metropolitan kitchens.

Texas played a pivotal role in salsa's history, debuting brands like El Paso Chile Company and Pace Foods, famous for their Eighties "New York City? Get a rope!" ads. In 1979, Dan Jardine of Jardine Foods named Austin the hot sauce capital of America, proving our hot sauce bona fides. From there, more and more companies jumped on the salsa production train, sharply increasing consumption in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Salsa became a staple in American food culture – even outselling condiments like ketchup.

The preferred salsa-shoveling vehicle – corn tortilla chips – also originated in Latin America. According to Mayan legend, peasants used dried ground native corn kernels to feed their hungry kings. Though the tortilla chip's definitive origin story is a mystery, Rebecca Webb Carranza claims she invented the chips as a way to use broken scraps from tortilla production. At least one national group, the Tortilla Association, recognizes her claim, but tostadas were being distributed to restaurants in southern California as early as the 1900s.

With the Hispanic/Latino populations increasing in the States, the appetite for chips and salsa is also on the rise, and the spicy duo became the official state snack of Texas in 2003 by a House Concurrent Resolution. Say what you want about the legitimacy of the acclaimed combo, but we think it's delicious and we won't stop scooping more into our mouths.

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