What Salsa Came First: The Dance Or The Condiment

Spicy, saucy, qué rica Salsa! These are all apt ways to describe salsa. We could be discussing the condiment, the dance, or the music genre. Salsa is a complex word.

There are several things that use the name salsa. Masterclass tells us that Salsa music hit the scene in the 1920s, originating from son Cubano, a style of Afro-Latin music. It laid the groundwork for the Salsa music that became popular in the mid-twentieth century. It is hard to hear Salsa and not want to move, so a dance to accompany the music was born. According to Dance Facts, Salsa rose in popularity in the U.S. throughout the 1920s, fueled in popularity by radio stations. The Palladium Ballroom in New York City became a hotspot for Latin dancing through the efforts of dance promoter Federico Pagani in 1948. Many famous Salsa artists of the time performed at the venue, further spreading its popularity. Since then, the dance has evolved into various styles with many musical and cultural influences (per Toronto Dance Salsa). These range from Colombian-style Cumbia and classic Cuban style to versions influenced by Miami, New York, and  L. A. styles.

There's no definitive information on who first came up with the Salsa name. However, it's tied to the fact that Salsa musicians would cheer dancers on with an exclamation of "Salsa!" to stir them up before playing an especially lively number (per liveabout). More importantly, how do Salsa music and dance relate to the delicious dish?

But What Came First, the Condiment or the Dance?

Even with all that history, neither the dance nor the music can compare with the long life of the condiment. As early as 1571, the author and Spanish monk Alonso de Molino coined the name "salsa" for Aztec sauce preparations. Alonso de Molino cemented his place In history with his Spanish-Nahuatl translation dictionary, Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana, which features over 23,600 entries (via The Library of Congress).

Despite its ancient origins, salsa wasn't a staple in the U.S. until the late-1980s (per The Nibble). The Atlantic tells us bottled salsa surpassed ketchup as the United States' largest selling condiment in 1991. It seems there's no end to our love of spicy flavors, as pre-made salsa sales were $836.8 million dollars in 2022 (via IBIS World). Regardless of which type of salsa you choose –  eating through a bottle of Valentina Salsa Picante while blasting the music of Celia Cruz right before hitting the dance floor — it seems that salsa brings the spice to life.