LIKE stir-fry and bagels, salsa has gone mainstream. The growing appetite for salsa and other spicy Mexican sauces -- salsa recently surpassed catsup as America's best-selling condiment, with annual sales of $700 million -- has made an unusual migration in the United States, as seen in this map of the nation's 212 television markets. Whereas most culinary trends begin in the large coastal metropolitan areas and creep inward to the heartland, salsa has its roots among rural Latinos in the Southwest and has spread north and east. This pattern bucks the usual "proletarian drift," whereby first upscale urbanites become enamored of a new product, such as Starbuck's coffee, and then, in time, even the most isolated market in Appalachia is selling caffè latte.
Demographic surveys show that salsa consumers tend to be of two types: downscale Latino families, for whom salsa (Spanish for "sauce") is a staple, and upscale Anglo families, who can afford to buy a condiment that is more expensive than catsup and who appreciate salsa's low fat content.
As a group, salsa aficionados are more likely to be married than single and rural than urban. Salsa is probably more popular among families than among singles because larger households do more cooking at home. This is also a reason why salsa sales are not high in the nation's big cities, where singles, who eat out regularly, make up a large proportion of residents. Another reason is that salsa is not particularly popular with African-Americans, who tend to prefer sweeter, tangier flavors.
Although the map does generally reflect the settlement patterns of the Latino population in the United States, there are several anomalies. For example, two centers of Latino settlement, Miami and New York, have relatively low rates of salsa consumption; salsa is not as popular among Latinos of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent as among those from Mexico or Central America.
-- Michael J. Weiss