Top 16 Latin American Sauces to Impress Your Friends
Welcome to a curated list of Latin American sauces I’ve made just for you! Impress your friends recreating these unique recipes at home.
You will find that some of these salsas (sauces) are unbelievably versatile and easy to make, while others will take a bit of your time, or are made specifically for a single kind of dish.
Hispanic salsas really turn a dish around—so make sure to try them all and choose the best fit for your daily diet. Just keep them in the fridge and eat them any time of day, yum!
Remember that most recipes for Latin American sauces are hot, so first try preparing them with few to no chilies, and continue to add up to your taste.
Here’s a great tip to reduce the overall heat: remove the pith and seeds of the chilies before preparing the salsa. This might also benefit the resulting flavor of the sauce since some of the seeds of a chile or ají have a bitter taste.
1. Guacamole – Mexico
Of all the popular Latin American sauces, guacamole is the quintessential Mexican dipping sauce. Originally, people prepared it using avocado as the only ingredient. The word guacamole comes from the Aztec language, Nahuatl, combining aguacate (avocado) and mole (another word for salsa, usually dense). According to Aztec mythology, it was Quetzalcóatl—one of the main deities in Mesoamerica—who offered this recipe to her people. Today, people consume this delicious buttery dipping sauce worldwide as a perfect pairing, creamy snack, side dish, and entrée.
- Follow the traditional recipe in the links below, and remember to use a Mexican mortar and pestle or molcajete—which is Spanish for “seasoning bowl”—if you want to taste it as Quetzalcóatl intended.
- Don’t forget to pair it with totopos, which are pan-fried tortillas cut out into triangles—they’re not nachos!
- You can also add grasshoppers or chapulines—a Mexican delicacy loaded with protein, vitamins, calcium, potassium, and minerals. Such a healthy and substantial dish!
2. Huancaína sauce – Perú
The Huancaína is the most emblematic sauce from Peru since the main ingredient is one of the Peruvian basics: the ají amarillo (yellow chilli, which looks rather orange than yellow).
There are many stories around the origins of this delicious, creamy salsa that wonderfully accompanies papas a la huancaína (huancaína potatoes), noodles, ceviche, and tasty risottos.
The most accepted one tells how the women from Huancayo—known as huancaínas—used to prepare potatoes with this sauce and serve the dish to the workers who were building the Central Peru Railway. It became so popular that the Railway began selling it to the passengers as well, popularizing the specialty all throughout Peru.
3. Salsa Rosa – Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina
The salsa rosa (rosa sauce) is a common sauce in Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Argentina. People use it especially for stuffed foods like tortellini and ravioli. You need cream and tomato to prepare the base, but you can play around with different seasonings to add your own taste—you may add some thyme, paprika, basil, or oregano and discover which one is your favorite!
Among the most popular Latin American sauces, this is one of the easiest to make. If you are a beginner chef, you might want to start here.
Remember to salpimentar (season with salt and pepper) before serving and ¡ahí lo tienen (there you have it)!
4. Peanut Sauce or Salsa de maní – Ecuador
El maní (groundnuts) was very abundant in Ecuador hundreds of years ago. People believed they could walk for days thanks to the energy from the peanuts they ate. That’s why Ecuadorian gastronomy consistently includes this ingredient in many famous recipes.
Depending on the region, you can find peanut and pepper pairings or a delicious mixture of peanut, seafood and green bananas.
This must-try South American salsa can top side dish vegetables, main courses, and, quite often, steaks.
5. Hogao sauce – Colombia
This traditional Colombian condiment, salsa, topping, and side dish comes from Spanish seasoning sofrito—whose ingredients are garlic, onion, and pepper. Sofrito is a Spanish word that means to lightly fry the food. The natives of America learned to use this as a base for sauces and added tomatoes to its recipe. This is why its name is salsa criolla or creole sauce.
In Puerto Rico, people aggregate green peppers and sweet chillies. In Mexico, people modify the recipe by adding hot green chillies, and in Argentina, they add chilli and bay leaves.
Some of the tomatoes travelled from Mexico—tomatl in Nahuatl means round berry filled with water and seeds—and some others travelled from the Middle East to Colombia.
Latin Americans prepare their sauces with the main ingredients of the hogao sauce. So while you cook it, teleport yourself to this part of the continent. Enjoy the smell and taste of it as its heat pairs wonderfully with your food. This sauce includes all the main Latin American flavors.
6. Chimichurri – Argentina
Of all the Hispanic salsas, this has the most origin stories. Some say the term chimichurri comes from Tximitxurri in Euskera—the Basque language—which is the name for a mix of things in a disorderly fashion. Others think that a man by the name of James Curry invented it and chimichurri is the result of a deformed version of his name. There are also those who believe it comes from saying “give me the curry,” or ¡che, mi curry! Che is one of the most common Slang words from Argentina.
Be as it may, this delicious sauce to accompany steak is easy to make and it changes the flavor of everything you top it with. You can use it to season your meat cuts or to spice up a beef empanada.
Latin American sauces are very versatile and you can enjoy them with practically any dish, but this one is particularly prepared to top a good steak.
7. Mole Poblano – México
Mole is the National Dish of Mexico, and according to tradition we owe this incomparable sauce to the divine creativity of a nun in Puebla, Mexico. Another story states that Moctezuma served it to Hernán Cortés, who delighted in it.
All Latin American sauces are delicious, but this particularly spicy, thick, rich, and sweet and sour unique salsa sits high on every Latino’s list. This is no wonder since approximately 30 different ingredients are responsible for its flavor. So, as you can imagine, we can’t rush its preparation. Fruits, chilli, nuts, seeds, and chocolate become a fusion different from anything you have ever tasted before.
There are several types of moles, and every Mexican grandma has a different twist to each of them—but nowadays, it is easier to prepare it, don’t worry!
But beware! Prepare and try this mole poblano recipe at your own risk—you might find yourself on a plane to Mexico a few hours later.
8. Molho Apimentado – Brazil
The Molho Apimentado sauce, also known as the Malagueta Hot Sauce, is a traditional gravy-like sauce you will find in every household of Brazil. You can use it as a marinade or seasoning for pastas, steaks, seafood, tacos, anything you can think of.
The main ingredient is the malagueta pepper, which ranks high in heat—so you might want to be careful. Besides Brazil, this chilli is endemic in Mozambique, Portugal, Angola, and many Caribbean countries.
9. Lizano sauce – Costa Rica
Próspero Jiménez created this vegetable-based liquid condiment in a local cantina. People bought it, took it home, and started to give it many uses. Demand for the sauce increased and Don Póspero decided to commercialize it. Today, the brand Lizano is part of a major cooperative’s portfolio and it offers many different sauces, with the steak sauce being the most popular.
As any secret recipe goes, the exact formula is unknown, but you can make a Lizano-style salsa at home. How yummy does that sound?
Of all the Latin American sauces in this list, you can easily take this one home from your trip to Costa Rica—so stop hesitating and go on your vacation already!
10. Ajilimójili – Puerto Rico
Ajilimójili is a versatile Puerto Rican salsa with two versions that can adapt to your taste: hot or hot and sweet.
Although hot and sweet seem to be opposite flavors, they pair up extremely well. You can make this garlic-based sauce with vinegar, oregano, cumin, olive oil, and more. You can serve it over vegetables, seafood, and grilled meat.
To make it sweet, you just need to add honey and butter along with a few other spices. Two-for-one salsas—not bad, huh?
11. Salsa Rocoto – Perú and Bolivia
Rocoto is a pre-Columbian plant from Peru and Bolivia that bears a red, yellow, green, or red spicy fruit. It has been around for at least 2000 years and it is the base of many peruvian traditional dishes, especially in the South. You can get it fresh, as a paste, or as a powder.
In Bolivia, people eat it every day as part of salads, as a side dish to pair with empanadas, or as garnish. You will need this ingredient to prepare the other traditional Bolivian llajua sauce as well.
Rocoto is also popular for its nutritional value, and it has analgesic and anticancer properties. People believe it brings relief and that it even cures joint illnesses when you apply it topically.
12. Llajua – Bolivia
You can make this pre-Columbian sauce with the rocoto plant as well. Its preparation requires a batán (a stone tool similar to the molcajete), and you may vary the necessary ingredients—among tomatoes, onions, peanuts, or other small spicy fruits.
You can find this Bolivian classic flavor in the McDonald’s and Burger King’s menu, or in street food stalls as snacks to accompany food to go.
13. Mojo de ajo – Cuba, Chile, México, and more
In Cuba there are two different types of mojo de ajo. The first recipe incorporates bitter orange, garlic and spices, and it is perfect to marinate meats. The second version is a mix of garlic, onion, lime, vinegar, and olive oil. It is a dipping sauce for many traditional appetizers or finger foods.
In Mexico, the customary ingredients are limes, garlic, and olive oil. You can add spices depending on which ones pair better with the kind of meat.
Mojo de ajo falls under the category of Mexican dipping sauces. This is not because you can deep totopos in it like in guacamole, but because you can dip or, better yet, “drown” the meat or seafood in it. Latin American sauces of this kind are very common in coastal areas.
14. Mojo isleño – Puerto Rico
The story has it that Eladia Ladi Correa, the famous founder of the Puerto Rican restaurant Ladi’s Place, first created this sauce from a Canarian recipe. It revolutionized the culinary world, becoming a classic Puerto Rican flavor in the preparation of seafood. 70 years later, you can still experience the original taste of the mojo isleño at Ladi’s Place in Salinas. However, to make a close second, give this recipe a go!
15. Chancho en piedra – Chile
This name might be a little misleading since chancho in many Hispanic countries means “pig.” Some sources state that the word comes from the Quechua—a South American indigenous language—”chanca,” which means to grind. Others state that the name originated in the old days when peasants and farmers used their unwashed shovels and stones to prepare a spicy paste to add to their food. The term is so widely known in Chile that there’s even a rock band with that name!
When preparing this salsa, remember to cut the ingredients into fine pieces before grinding and feel free to discard the shovel, a molcajete will do the trick!
16. Ají de uchuva – Colombia
The uchuva is the exotic fruit cape gooseberry whose delicious sour taste makes it ideal to cook many different dishes—from salsas, to yogurt, and jam. It looks like a yellow berry and is easy to find in Latin American markets under any of these names: vejigón, guchuva, capulí, uchuva, uvilla, topo-topo, poga poga, aguaymanto, topetorope, alquequenje, tomate silvestre (wild tomato), or tomatillo (small tomato).
This superfood has high levels of protein and water, and low caloric value. It prevents infections, scaly skin, and cataracts. It also regulates glucose and cholesterol.
The ají de uchuva is a pleasant mix of tastes—the uchuvas provide for the sour taste, the chillies for the spicy taste, the vinegar for the acid taste, and the sugar for the sweet taste.
How complex and contrasting, right?
Be More in Touch with your inner Latin Chef!
You will most likely be able to find all the necessary ingredients and tools to prepare these superb Latin American sauces. However, there is nothing like experiencing the Latin American taste first hand.
Imagine a culinary trip to immerse yourself in the gastronomy of a Latin American country. What better way to learn all about the intricacies of Latin American cooking than in their own language! Learn or practice Spanish to get all the secrets from the local chefs and learn how to recreate the whole experience back home.
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