Salsa Macha – One Sauce for Every Taste

It might seem somewhat prolix to start a post about hot sauce with a paragraph about male-oriented culture and etymology, but the name “salsa macha” requires just that.  Macho is the Spanish word for “male”, from the Latin root masculus.  In Spain and Spanish speaking countries, it has also been used as an adjective, frequently with a negative connotation, to identify men who are dominant, easy to provoke when cranky, and in the worst cases, abusive towards the weak.  In some instances, though,  the term comes with the association to a code of honour, in which men must also be responsible providers and defenders, and to be macho means that they ought to be brave and strong.  From its etymology, and maybe cultural implications as well, it applied only to men, but over the years, feminism movements and women’s rights changes have generalized the term beyond its unilateral intrinsic meaning, ascribing it to a self-assured and extremely brave person, regardless of gender, so for example, a woman may be described as “macha”  in an informal way, not being a particularly academic or scientifically correct term.

Leaving the analysis of the term at that, and moving on to say that, in that context, salsa macha translates as “brave sauce”, it applies here in the sense that it is extremely strong and spicy hot; it would probably also raise a challenge for those being machos/machas themselves, or “brave to the extreme” to try and be able to eat it.

The Mexican states of Oaxaca and Veracruz both claim salsa macha as their own; I personally have heard and read of more references from Veracruz. The book “La guía del tragón”  (“The Glutton’s Guide”) by Dore Ferriz states that the original recipe called for fried comapeño, tabaquero and morita peppers, along with sesame seed, garlic, peanuts and all-spice.  Many modern recipes from Veracruz usually call for only one type of pepper, and no seeds or nuts, with garlic as an optional ingredient.  Comapeño peppers are very spicy, with a range between 50,000 and 100,000 units in the Scoville scale, so they would certainly make quite a “macha” sauce (as a reference, jalapeño peppers are between 5,000 and 8,000 Scoville units). Tabaqueros grow in mountainous regions, and the word “serrano” means “from the mountains”, so this pepper is sometimes identified as a “dried serrano pepper”, although it is not exactly the same variety as the serrano that is often served green (as shown below).  Every year I have a few serrano plants in my garden, and last year I had a bumper crop, so I allowed some of the green peppers to mature to red colour:

Serrano peppers at differernt stages of maturity (From my garden, fall 2019)

Dried red serranos look somewhat similar to tabaqueros,  with a heat level in the range between 10,000 and 23,000 Scoville units:

Dried red serrano peppers (From my garden, 2019 crop)

Finally, morita is a dried and smoked fully ripened small jalapeño, one of the peppers I talked about in my previous post; with a spiciness range of 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville units:

Morita peppers(Purchased in Toronto, 2020)

For this post, I am preparing one batch using my red serranos, dried from last fall,  and a second batch with morita, since those are the peppers I have at hand; this will give me a batch with a nice middle point between the somewhat-hot jalapeño and the very-hot comapeño, and a milder batch, close to jalapeño hotness level.  As always, handle hot peppers carefully, trying not to touch your face, and wearing gloves if sensitive.

Brave Sauce – Salsa Macha

Ingredients (for approximately 1/2 cup)

6-7 dried red hot peppers (Morita, Tabaquero, Comapeño, etc.; choose level of spiciness, to taste)
½ cup olive oil, plus more, as needed
1 clove garlic (optional); peeled 
1 tsp salt, or to taste

I had a batch of morita (photo below, left) and a batch of dried red serrano (which I will call tabaquero, for short, right):

Ingredients for salsa macha (morita peppers on the left, tabaquero peppers on the right)

I started with the batch of tabaqueros.  Remove stem from peppers and set aside.  In a small pan, warm up the oil over medium/high heat, until it is hot but not smoking; add peppers (photo below, left); fry, stirring constantly to avoid burning, until they swell and become crispy and change colour, but not burnt (photo below, centre).  Remove promptly (photo below, right):

Transfer to a mortar with pestle (such as a stone Mexican molcajete with tejolote), or as in this case, a mini chopper, along with the garlic (if using, photo below, left); add salt (photo below, centre).  Grind until the peppers have turned into small flakes, but not completely pulverized (photo below, right):

Transfer to a clean jar (such as a Mason jar); in the photo below, left, I am using a paper towel to wipe all the pepper flakes off the mini chopper and into the jar.  Pour the oil from the pan into the jar (photo below, centre); top with extra olive oil, if needed, to cover the flakes completely (photo below, right):

For my second batch, I removed the stems from the moritas, and fried them in the olive oil as before; notice how big they swell, and the beautiful, almost purple colour (morita means little berry):

I processed this batch as before, to obtain the salsas machas pictured at the top of this post, and below, just perfect to top pieces of crusty bread, for the flavoured oil to be absorbed into the crumb:


IMPORTANT:  Note about low acidic food packed in oil and the risk of botulism – I consulted several sources, and the reliable ones (such as university food extensions and government food agencies) say that, although cooking vegetables and using hot oil is good to reduce risk, they recommend all homemade vegetables and herbs packed in oil to be stored in the fridge, and consumed within a week (or frozen for longer storage). Commercial oils with herbs and oil-packed vegetables are acidified to reduce their pH and make them safe for longer storage, but this has not been formally tested to be done safely at home.  From the OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY Extension Service: ” … chilies in oil must be refrigerated unless they have been pickled with vinegar or lemon juice. Mixtures must be refrigerated and used within 4 days or frozen for long-term storage.”  It is true that salsa macha has been made for many years, in large quantities, and kept for long periods, even before refrigeration was available, but there is no way to know how many cases of poisoning went undocumented as well, and even if low, the risk is there, so my strong recommendation is to follow this recipe as it is, in very small batches, easily made as needed (or freeze individual batches and thaw when needed).  Better safe than sorry!


It was very satisfying to try the sauces side by side, noticing the different colours, textures, and flavour profiles, including their hotness; the tabaquero  was definitely spicier than the morita, which had more of a smoky flavour.  Salsa macha may top practically any savoury food in need of a punch of flavour; for example, a Mexican sandwich (torta), with cheese and avocado (de queso y aguacate).  Sprinkle with a few drops of salsa macha before closing the bun (photo below, left); the mild flavours of the bun and filling will contrast with unpredictable bursts of spiciness from the sparingly added drops of salsa macha (photo below, right):

And the classic way to eat it in Veracruz, topping Mexican white rice, in the plate below with broiled fish, and a side of fried plantain with a dollop of cream:


A nice feature of this recipe is that levels of spiciness, smokiness, sweetness, etc. may be controlled by choosing different peppers.  Below is a short list of some red dried pepper options, from the original “fire-in-the-sky-hot” comapeños, down to some mild options, for those who would like to enjoy the delicious flavours of salsa macha, but want a less “macho” approach when it comes to spiciness:

Type of Pepper

Comapeño 
Piquín 
Cayenne 
Japanese 
De árbol 
Serrano (red)
Morita  
Jalapeño (red) 
Costeño (red) 
Guajillo 
New Mexico 
Ancho 

Spiciness Range in Scoville Units

50,000 to 100,000  – extra spicy
30,000 to 60,000
30,000 to 60,000
25,000 to 30,000 – spicy
15,000 to 30,000
10,000 to 25,000 – medium
5,000 to 8,000
5,000 to 8,000 
3,500 to 5,000 – mild
2,000 to 8,000
1,000 to 3,000
1,000 to 1,500 – very mild


Please note that I have not tried these companies myself, so I cannot comment on their quality or service, but I found the sources listed below while preparing this post, and I thought they might be useful for ordering dried peppers and other Mexican products online, depending on your location (click on names to visit their websites and online shops):

The Boonville Barn Collective (Boonville, California, USA)

Épices de Cru (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

IKOMEX (The UK)

Mexicaanse Winkel (The Netherlands)

Azteca Mexican Food Products (Midrand, Gauteng, South Africa)


I am joining Fiesta Friday #334 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday, this week co-hosting with Mollie @ The Frugal Hausfrau


I am sharing my recipe at What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-Up # 259, with Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome.

16 thoughts on “Salsa Macha – One Sauce for Every Taste

  1. I didn’t plant chillies last spring because they grow so well, I couldn’t use them all, so thank you for this recipe. I know my boys will love it and I can try it will my next harvest.

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    1. Ah, thank you for your comment, I forgot to mention that if you want to make a larger quantity, you may fry the peppers in batches in the same oil and just top the jar (larger one) with raw olive oil as needed. I will add that to the recipe!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi again, Su! I second guessed my previous statement, thinking of low acidic food in oil and the risk of botulism. All reliable sources (such as university food extensions) say that frying is good, but recommend all homemade vegetables and herbs packed in oil to be made in small batches, stored in the fridge, and consumed within a week. Commercial oils with herbs and oil packed vegetables are acidified to reduce the pH and make them safe, but this cannot be done safely at home, so I guess it is better to keep the recipe as it is, and make small batches as needed. Better safe than sorry!

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  2. Oh Irene – these sound so good!! I like the brave one! Pinned! Thanks for sharing at the What’s for Dinner party. Have a fabulous week!

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  3. Both versions sound fabulous! I have seen the same for garlic packed in oil (for people trying to save time and chop up a bunch of garlic and store it for later use, like the commercial variety.) I think the risk is very low but botulism is nothing to dismiss!

    Every year I think about growing peppers but our season is so short that every year, by the time I think about it, it’s too late!! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing at Fiesta Friday this week.

    Mollie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Buying seedlings gives me an early crop of jalapenos, but it is nice that they are a popular item at produce sections at supermarkets these days. I pack my extra garlic cloves in vinegar and keep them in the fridge; the acidic medium is safe, they last for months and are still very flavourful; I will keep my batches of salsa macha small for sure. Thank you, Mollie, and thank you for hosting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even with buying plants we’re always trying to coax a little more time here in MN (which changed from a zone 3 to a zone 4 with reservations several years ago; we get a lot of cold downdraft out of Lake Superior and some parts of Canada are warmer) covering them when frost threatens and so on! Habaneros seem to grow better for me than jalapenos or serranos. I grew them all when I first moved to MN because you could hardly find them at the store! Now we have them year-round.
        The first year I moved here and wanted to make Chile Rellenos I had to go to three different stores to get 6 poblanos!! I had friends who were bringing me peppers from Colorado when they visited, lol! I was going through serious withdrawal! People thought Taco Bell was too hot! Boy things have come a long way in the last 25 years or so, with so much available at the stores and so many people interested in different cuisines!! 🙂

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      2. I know, when I first came to Canada, seriously, avocados were unknown, and limes and cilantro were rarely seen. I support local as much as I can, but I am grateful for globalization, too.

        Liked by 1 person

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