What Fat-Free Flavor Booster is the Nation's Top Topping?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

What is the country's favorite condiment? Hint: It's red and comes in a bottle. It goes with almost every food imaginable and is fat free!

It's salsa, which in 1992 outsold our other favorite tomato product, ketchup, for the very first time. Since then, the former shares a razor-thin margin of victory that sometimes, depending on the source and the survey, falls to second place behind the latter.

Regardless of its gold or silver status, there's no doubting salsa's appeal. Whereas a decade ago, you might find three varieties of salsa: mild, medium and hot, today salsas fill row upon row at the supermarket.

Pico de gallo, salsa verde, peach salsa, mango salsa, avocado salsa, black bean salsa--the varieties are endless. Salsa means "sauce" in Spanish, but the traditional pico de gallo, a chunky mix of tomatoes, onion, and chili peppers, is ubiquitous. I'm sure hard-core salsa aficionados would argue otherwise, but any (usually) raw sauce made from vegetables and fruit can be called "salsa."

In summer time, when the tomatoes are so ripe you can smell them before you can see them at the farmers market, I make huge amounts of salsa in every flavor possible. You can eat it with chips, sure, but also on top of grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu, other vegetables, beans and rice, in soups, and on its own with a spoon!

Use it to top a salad or throw some on top of pasta--the heat from the pasta will take the chill off the salsa. What a great warm-weather meal!

A couple of years ago, I made my friend Katie a mango salsa. She was midway through her weight-loss journey (she lost 90 pounds and looks AMAZING now!), and I was helping her learn to cook. We grilled chicken breasts, sliced some avocados, cooked up some brown rice with lime juice and cilantro--then topped it all off with a tasty salsa.

Months passed and she emailedme in a fluster. She'd forgotten the ingredient list! Guess what? With salsa, there are no rules, no recipes, no "ingredient list," I told her. Our mango version featured tomatoes, red peppers, red onion, jalapeno, mango, a bit of salt, pepper and lime juice.

She didn't have tomatoes, so she left those out. But she did have cucumbers, so I offered that she could add some. It turned out great, she said.

With prodigious amounts of fresh produce starting to come into season, try making your own salsa.

Here are some tasty combos--and note that I haven't listed amounts. Just start chopping and be creative. Fruit and especially vegetables are incredibly low in calories and virtually fat free, so add whatever you'd like in whatever amount you've got on hand.

Salsa can be made with any vegetable, any fruit, any herb, in any combination. Roast the veggies or leave them raw--it doesn't matter. Too bland? Add salt, a pinch of sugar or a dash of vinegar or citrus juice.

Photo of some of last summer's salsa ingredients!

Try some of these combos:
  • "Italian salsa": tomatoes, basil, red onion, green garlic, red peppers, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper
  • Pineapple, mint and jalapeno.
  • Mango with red peppers.
  • Cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, and onion.
  • Raspberries, a chipotle pepper and onions
  • Cucumbers, green pepper, onion, tomato and cilantro.
  • Plums, mint, jalapeno and onion.
  • Peaches, onion, chipotles and tomatoes.

The list is endless. Mix and match what you like. Experiment. Fool around with some combinations until you find something that works for you.
In the mean time, try some of these salsas:

Fat-free, fresh, raw, perfect. Salsa.

What is your favorite kind of salsa? Do you ever make your own? What's the most interesting salsa you've ever tried?

p.s. Let me start my summertime public service announcement campaign for tomatoes now. NEVER refrigerate a tomato. Ever.
Store them on the counter, stem side down and out of direct sunlight in a single layer. They'll stay sweet, firm and luscious. Placing them in the fridge turns those succulent beauties into cold, mealy, tasteless, anemic corpses of the fruit they used to be. Let your tomatoes live a warm and happy life, and they'll thank you by sacrificing all their flavor and nutrition in your tasty and healthful salsa!

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  • 94
    I think I will stick with ketchup, because I don't like hot spicy things - 6/10/2009   8:18:58 PM
  • 93
    I absolutely LOVE salsa of probably every variety. However, the good-old-standby favorite is the traditional pico de gallo. - 6/10/2009   7:35:53 PM
  • 92
    I like salsa, but I haven't tried many varieties. I like to make my own, because then it doesnt have as much sodium and I can tweak it to my liking, but the ingredients are things that I don't usually have in my house. - 6/10/2009   5:52:21 PM
  • 91
    I use pico de gallo all the time. Most salsa is good. Some store bought ones are too sweet. I hate those. - 6/10/2009   5:52:16 PM
  • 90
    Didn't know about not refrigerating tomatoes. Guess I won't from now on! I have to get mild salsa, since my DH will only eat mild. - 6/10/2009   5:26:10 PM
  • 89
    I make and Cann my own Salsa from the vegetables we grow in the garden. I wait until the end of the season and do a traditional tomatoes, pepper grean & Red and spicyones (or hot sauce if we are out), onion and I add some grated zucchini I cook it down and Jar it in both pints and quarts. This also makes a great gift in a basket of goodies (Pickles, Jams, Fruit I do up etc..) at Christmas - 6/10/2009   4:13:20 PM
  • 88
    I like salsa but have to be careful with the commercial brands as they have bell peppers in them and I am deathly allergic. I like fruit ones like the mango but make them without bell peppers. - 6/10/2009   4:08:54 PM
  • 87
    My favorite is the home made traditional salsa with all ingredients chopped really fine with tomatilla, tomatoes, onion, garlic, lemon, cilantro for flavoring. Then, I like all the rest of the flavors - love adding black beans for protein. Recently we have been buying huge tub of traditional and mango peach salsa from costco for its so good and no labor involved! Love the papaya salsa too over spicy hot fish:) - 6/10/2009   3:26:47 PM
  • 86
    Mmmmmm....I love salsa!! My favorite is medium. It has to have a bit of a kick. Thanks for all the great ideas! - 6/10/2009   3:24:16 PM
  • 85
    I think that basil is the perfect match for tomatoes, so I prefer the "Italian" version.

    I make my own salsa in the summertime - that's the only time of year I buy tomatoes: when they're in season, and smell like real tomatoes! - 6/10/2009   2:40:19 PM
    I love salsa & my own pico de gallo is my favorite. I use the green tabasco instead of jalapenos, because I don't like to bite into them. Agree that it is wonderful with just about everything. - 6/10/2009   2:18:57 PM
  • 83
    Thanks for the tip, I always refrigerate my tomatoes - 6/10/2009   1:57:56 PM
  • 82
    Fresh salsa is the best! No preservatives, and you can make it anyway you want. And true, you won't go back. It's actually cheaper too. For the same amount of you pay for a jar of salsa at the store, you can have at least twice as much of home made. - 6/10/2009   1:30:09 PM
  • 81
    Fresh salso is full of robust flavors. Once you try fresh salsa, you can't go back to the processed ones. - 6/10/2009   1:10:33 PM
  • 80
    Love fresh salsa yum yum !!! like to make my own - 6/10/2009   1:00:56 PM
    I started growing my own tomatoes this year so I'm really excited about these recipes. - 6/10/2009   12:15:53 PM
  • 78
    Love salsa! My faves are plain old pico de gallo (beefsteak tomatoes, onions, jalapeno, cilantro, lime) and all sorts of variations on black bean/corn/mango/.... - 6/10/2009   12:12:12 PM
  • APO5758
    Here in Texas we have all kinds of salsa. My kids and I often make our own. we use tomatoes (cherry and roma), onion, red bell peppers, jalapenos, chipotles, cilantro, lime, dried ancho chiles, a little sea salt, garlic. We eat it on anything, except ice cream. My husband likes it with fat free cottage cheese as his lunch. My favorite jarred is Jardines' campfire roasted or the prarie peach. - 6/10/2009   12:07:29 PM
  • 76
    Does it have to be raw to be called salsa? I love to roast vegetables and make my salsa from that. - 6/10/2009   12:03:28 PM
  • 75
    Wow! Thanks for the tomato storing information. And, mmmmmm, all the salsa recipes - yea summer! - 6/10/2009   12:03:19 PM
  • PIXIE919
    I love to use salsa on pork chops I mix it with a small amount of brown sugar and cook in the crock pot for 6 hours the tastiest tenderest pork you'll ever have. - 6/10/2009   11:44:36 AM
    My 2 favorite salsas are cucumber and mango. I make my own salsa every summer in several flavors.

    My son's favorite is one I make with jalapenos, red chiles, hot yellow banana peppers, yellow onion, cucumber, celery and cilantro. It's so hot I can hardly stand to even smell it, but he eats it by the pint. No tomatoes in that one, by the way. He hates tomatoes. - 6/10/2009   11:25:28 AM
  • 72
    I LOVE pineapple salsa, with bits of red onion and whatever hot pepper looks good, plus some cilantro - great on grilled fish or chicken.

    People with ALLERGIES - BEWARE - mango is a common food that people are allergic to, but don't realize it until they eat some. Now that mango is becoming more available, more people are finding out that they're allergic to it. It's related to poison sumac. So try a little first. I've ended up in two ERs due to accidental mango ingestion. - 6/10/2009   11:25:24 AM
  • 71
    Every summer I look forward to making big batches of salsa. I grow my own tomatoes, and am even growing my own onions this year. I get a huge bowl and start chopping- roma tomatoes, onions, green onions, garlic, jalepeno and serrano peppers. The serranos are hot, but just a few gives the salsa a really good flavor. Be sure to wear gloves when seeding and chopping peppers. I'd like to try canning some. - 6/10/2009   10:53:48 AM
  • 70
    I just read a couple of days ago that the proper way to store tomatoes is at room temperature, as you have said, but that the STEM side should be DOWN. (source: America's Test Kitchen ; http://www.cooksillustrated.com/how
    They may look prettier with the stem up, but if you want them to last place them stem down. - 6/10/2009   10:50:32 AM
  • 69
    I love a good tomato based or black bean salsa. Not ready to venture away from basics yet! I would like to find a good low sodium or organic salsa but haven't found anything that tastes good. Any recommendations? - 6/10/2009   9:38:01 AM
  • 68
    I love salsa, but I've never made it from scratch. Maybe it's time to try?...

    Also thanks for the tip on how to keep tomatoes. I've always kept mine in the fridge and never liked them much, now I know why. Of course you just can't beat fresh, homegrown tomatoes. I considered growing my own, but one of my neighbors grows a large crop and sells them really cheap, $1/lb. Since we travel quite a bit in the summer, it frees me up from the day-today care of the plants, gives me a chance to interact with my neighbor a little more, and still have fresh homegrown tomatoes. - 6/10/2009   9:36:55 AM
    Sorry, I don't get the whole salsa thing. Maybe it's 'cause I live in the Northeast where catsup (ketchup) is just fine. Love chili and anything with beans and veggies but the only time we have ever eaten tomato salsa is with nacho or taco chips, and then not too often. Aren't these types of dishes also called piccalilli or chutney in other parts of the world? Dear Mahouneko (#19): You're not alone! - 6/10/2009   9:34:11 AM
  • 66
    I never knew how to store tomatoes.. so thank for the side point!

    I dont know what she puts in it or how she makes it but my moms homemade salsa is my fave!! - 6/10/2009   9:31:00 AM
    I've made a great salsa to be served on grilled turkey tenderloins - it's also great served with baked tortilla chips. I think it's from a cookbook by Ina Garten - The Barefoot Contessa. It has mango, papaya, red onion, roma tomatoes, cilantro, a little olive oil and salt. Those are the basics - improvise and make it your own! - 6/10/2009   9:25:53 AM
  • 64
    I was at Trader Joe's the other day ... they had their samples going & I tried some of their smoked Peach Salsa! WOW!! Awesome! Now I'm addicted to it... - 6/10/2009   8:58:53 AM
  • 63
    Pico de gallo is my favorite...I make it all the time...although I have to watch my salt and to be good it needs some salt to cut the sour of the tomatoes and Lime juice. Love it with chicken. Grace - 6/10/2009   8:55:46 AM
  • 62
    I love Zucchini Salsa. After having tons of zucchini and sick of bread I didn't know what to do with the rest of my zucchini. My husband did some research online and found a zucchini salsa recipe. It is the hit of every get together. - 6/10/2009   8:55:19 AM
    Pineapple Mango salsa is a personal favorite of mine. It's great with yellow rice, black beans, and chicken, or for those who like fish you can use that variation. I like to dice up the chicken and mix it all together in a bowl to eat. - 6/10/2009   8:51:21 AM
  • JBLAZER123
    Here in Tucson, salsa is served with nearly every meal and can be fixed so many different ways. My fav. lunch is salsa and low fat cottage cheese. - 6/10/2009   8:49:21 AM
  • 59
    Because I am allergic to peppers -- they make my mouth break out in canker sores -- I had never had salsa until my lovely sister-in-law was making some and pulled out a bowlful for me before she added her green peppers & jalapenos to the rest. Now I love it and make my own. Her preferred ingredients are tomatoes, cilantro, onion, green onion, cucumber, radishes, garlic, and lime juice seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, & a touch of garlic and/or onion powder. Of course, she adds the peppers to hers for the rest of the tribe! - 6/10/2009   8:47:45 AM
  • 58
    I have never made my own salsa, but after this I think I will try! I love salsa. My favorite is the Pinapple Salsa you can find in most grocery stores. Mix that with some fat-free sour cream for a creamy dip that can't disappoint! Can't wait to try my own. - 6/10/2009   8:45:51 AM
  • 57
    One of my favorite is a mango-avocado salsa on fish. I also LOVE salsa on my omelets - 6/10/2009   8:45:07 AM
  • 56
    We have a garden and I use my tomatoes to make and can salsa and spaghetti sauce. Salsa is my husband's favorite snack. For a special snack we add black beans and corn. I also put salsa on my broiled fish. I really like adding bits of mango to my salsa when serving salmon. Yum! - 6/10/2009   8:37:21 AM
  • 55
    I LOVE salsa too!1 I have to buy the fresh deli kind every week. I usually put a few spoonfuls on top of my scrambled egg beaters in the morning for breakfast!! - 6/10/2009   8:29:08 AM
  • 54
    I love salsa, but need to be careful about the spices. Even some of the milder ones makes my digestive system crazy. So, will cut down on the jalepenos on some of the recipes. It stinks for my husband because he loves spicy foods, but I cannot eat them without paying for it later on. So, we will just have to make 2 batches, one for him and one for me. - 6/10/2009   8:29:05 AM
  • 53
    When I order salsa for dressing on my salad some waitstaff look at me like I'm crazy. Those at my favorite restaurants don't even ask any more - they just bring me a large bowl. I have found that the salads that are "tossed" in dressing can be ordered untossed and salsa used instead. - 6/10/2009   8:27:22 AM
  • 52
    Love salsa! I planted my first salsa garden this year in pots on my balcony. I am growing: Tomatoes, Cherry Tomatoes, Jalapeņo, Banana Peppers, & Cilantro.
    So far, so good!
    - 6/10/2009   8:19:02 AM
  • 51
    I didn't realize salsa was so varied. Planting a salsa garden sounds like fun to me!! - 6/10/2009   8:07:20 AM
  • 50
    Having lived in New Mexico for many years I can't have salsa without some green chili as an ingredient! I top my baked potatoes with salsa. Keeps me from wanting butter and sour cream! - 6/10/2009   7:49:09 AM
  • 49
    Wow! I've always loved salsa, but never realized the many ways it could be used. Thanks for the interesting, helpful and FUN tips! - 6/10/2009   7:48:32 AM
  • 48
    Somebody at work brought in some very spicy salsa made with fresh or frozen cranberries. I had never had anything like it but it was really good. I think my favorite to eat just out of the jar would be peach salsa but I can't say I have ever tried a salsa I didn't like! - 6/10/2009   6:19:25 AM
    If everybody loves salsa they have a condiment packet full of spices that you just add to tomatoes and onions I get it at my local Walmart, it is made by Concord Foods, I mix it with whatever vegetables I have on hand. I actually made it with tomatoes, celery, red onions, baby carrots, celery, red and yellow peppers. It is sooooo delicious, just put all veggies in a food processor for any consistency that you like add condiment packet refrigerate for about an hour and tahdah you have homemade sala, it is the best I ever tasted!!!!! P.S. the dry ingredient packet only costs .88 cents at Walmart, hope you all try and enjoy!!! - 6/10/2009   6:04:27 AM
  • 46
    Black Bean and Mango Salsa !! YUMMY !! - 6/10/2009   5:34:34 AM
  • 45
    I love Newmans Own Black Bean Salsa...I can eat it straight out of the jar! - 6/10/2009   4:55:10 AM

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