What Is Salsa Verde?

Any lover of Mexican cuisine has seen and most likely eaten salsa verde. And anyone with even an inkling of the Spanish language can figure out that salsa verde means “green sauce” in English. But what is salsa verde, really? Why are some spicier than others? And why do some salsa verde recipes look a heck of a lot different than what you typically get next to your tacos?

Let’s break down salsa verde to see what makes this popular condiment so unique and yet so general at the same time. 

What is salsa verde? The Mexican version

In Mexican cuisine, salsa verde is typically based on the tomatillo. These are small green vegetables that look like mini-tomatoes. Tomatillos are from the same family as tomatoes, but really they are more closely related to the gooseberry. They are prized in the culinary world for their mild tartness which plays very well with fiery flavors. So a salsa verde in Mexico is typically a tomatillo based salsa mixed with chili peppers, onions, and other ingredients.

Why are some salsa verde mixes hotter than others?

That all comes down to what chili peppers are in the mix. Salsa verde mixes that look absolutely the same can have huge differences in overall heat. Some may use extremely mild chilies while others may spice it up with jalapeño peppers or its hotter cousin – serrano peppers.

And of course, there’s the amount of chili pepper used in a salsa verde. If the salsa only contains a small proportion of chili peppers compared to other ingredients, it will taste milder than one that loaded with chilies.

Why does salsa verde look different around the world?

That’s as simple as the translation itself: Green sauce. Anything that’s a green colored sauce can be called by the name salsa verde, or whatever it translates to in the local language. There are Italian, French, Argentinian, and German varieties, just to name a few. Each of these salsa verde recipes may also go by another name, like the Argentinian chimichurri or the Italian gremolata.

Though, the green color of these sauces comes from different sources than the tomatillo of Mexican salsa verde. They get their green-ness from fresh herbs like parsley and sage.

But for us spicy food lovers, when we hear the words “salsa verde”, it’s typically the Mexican version that comes first to mind. From mild to scorching, it’s one of the condiments that makes Mexican cuisine oh so tasty.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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