A taste of something I mistook as familiar stopped me in my tracks—a jar of bright red oil with bits of dried chilis and crispy garlic, and wait, are those sesame seeds? Oh, it’s chili crisp, a Chinese condiment I know and love. But why does the label say salsa macha?
Salsa macha, similar to the chili crisp that lives in my fridge, is a Mexican condiment made with dried chilis that are fried, infused, and suspended in its own cooking oil. It tastes different from chili crisp mostly because of the many varieties of Mexican chilis it uses. It’s also nothing like the jarred salsas for dipping tortillas and filling tacos. Lots of dried chilis and oil are required, and sometimes it has garlic, sesame seeds, pepitas, peanuts, or even raisins—there aren’t rules limiting how it’s made or used.
Salsa macha comes from the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca in Mexico. I didn’t try it in Veracruz or Oaxaca, but at The Fancy Food Show in New York City. It electrified my taste buds, and I could imagine endless ways it would embolden any dish with its nutty richness, satisfying crunch, and of course, spice. That’s the kind of condiment that deserves a spot in my fridge. I plan to drizzle it on quesadillas and fried eggs, add it to roasted broccoli, and smear it in an otherwise tame ham and cheese sandwich.
And it’s not just for drizzling. Arantza De La Torre of Don Chilio, a Mexican brand of salsa macha, agrees. “This is a condiment that you can cook with. My mom does this amazing cauliflower. She puts the salsa macha on it and bakes it.” The oil, which is deeply flavored, coats the cauliflower, and all the seasonings are already in the salsa macha. It’s that versatile.
It’s an obsession-worthy salsa that New York Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao called the most valuable condiment in 2020, because so many restaurants jarred it up for take-out when dining rooms remained closed. Luckily, salsa macha is now suddenly everywhere. Here are three brands I tasted at The Fancy Food Show and loved:
There’s good news and then there’s bad news. The good news is that CHiNGONAs is precisely what I look for in an everyday, on-everything condiment. It’s the tastiest salsa macha I whole-heartedly recommend. It uses three types of chilis: chile Japones and chile de arbol for vibrant heat, and fruity smoky guajillo. It’s spicy, but it doesn’t violently sear your tastebuds. Garlic, ginger, and shallots tilt it savory, and sesame seeds and peanuts give it a habit-forming crunchiness.
CHiNGONAs comes from the kitchen of Son’s Addition, a restaurant in San Francisco, which leads me to the bad news. For now, it’s still hard to find outside of the Bay Area. You can order it for pickup from the restaurant or find it at local Bi-Rite Markets.
Salsa macha is a new product for Don Chilio, a Mexican brand that is known for what they call Chile Crisp—larger crunchy bits of habanero, jalapeño, and serrano peppers in olive oil. They have three iterations of salsa macha: Sweet Heat, with brown sugar for warmth and balance; Smoky, the mildest, I would guess has chipotle peppers—the company does not disclose the specific variety of dried chilis they use; and Spicy Cranberry, with cranberries and sesame seeds, is hot, sweet, and an absolute delight.
Mark Your Calendars!
Don Chilio is releasing it's salsa macha for sale to the public in August 2022.
Gran Luchito is a brand that started in a small market stand in East London, but now sells its Mexican pastes, sauces, and salsa macha worldwide. Don’t let the relatively small jar deter you—it comes in at 3.5 ounces compared to 8 to 10 ounces for most other brands. I drizzled a modest teaspoon of this salsa macha over a cup of sour cream for dipping tortilla chips. It’s a crowd-pleasing party trick I will lean on from now until forever.