Hot Mama Salsa began out of a craving for the flavors of home, Mexican inspired southwest cuisine. Out of a small production kitchen in Portland Oregon Hot Mama Salsa hand produces fresh salsas, hot sauces, and chili oils using traditional ethnic cooking methods and fresh local ingredients. Our salsas feature recipes from the Guerrero family and are influenced by Mexican culture. Our products include flavors that are bright, fresh, earthy, smoky, and spicy.
Our hot sauces showcase chili peppers from all over the globe and include flavors from Africa, Peru, California, Mexico, and the Caribbean. We are fanatic about chili peppers; their histories, origins, and traditional uses. We delight in using and teaching traditional cooking methods that showcase the rich and expansive flavors of specific chilies and different cultures. And we are dedicated to working with our local farm community to grow these specialty chili peppers and ethnic ingredients.
How It All Began
In 1999 our owner Nikki Guerrero moved from the dry southwest desert to the rich green soils of the Pacific Northwest. She searched everywhere for the flavors of home; fresh handmade green corn tamales, soft flour tortillas, and spicy bright fresh made salsas. After scouring Portland and its outlying taquerias and tiendas she realized that there was a real need for the fresh Mexican flavors that she grew up with. Nikki grew up making salsa and tortillas with her grandmother and was always the one asked to bring guacamole and salsa to any social gathering. At that time in Portland there was only one other fresh salsa company in operation. Nikki had a friend from Arizona that had just purchased a small produce market and grocery store in North Portland and had been dreaming of having fresh chips and salsa on the shelves just like home. She offered to help Nikki get access to wholesale produce and put her products on the shelf at the Cherry Sprout Produce Market. She also convinced the bar next-door to let Nikki use their kitchen in the morning before they opened in trade for salsa. And so the business began, Hot Mama Salsa graced the shelves of Cherry Sprout Produce for the first time on May 23, 2008.
The line began with 3 flavors of fresh salsa. The first and still best seller today was her family recipe, Gramal’s Chili. It is the salsa that was always on the table at any Guerrero family meal. It is a traditional Mexican style table salsa with stewed jalapeños, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, and onions. There was also a milder Salsa Verde and a traditional Salsa Cacahuate. Hot Mama Salsa’s original Salsa Verde was a roasted tomatillo salsa with japlepenos, mint, cliantro, and lime. Over the years the recipe has morphed a little bit to match the palates of our northwest customer base and today we sell a mild Salsa Verde with fresh tomatillos, lime, and avocado. The Salsa Cacahuate is a traditional Mexican sauce from the Chiapas region. Is is rich, earthy, and nutty and contains roasted peanuts, spicy chilies de arbol, and tomatoes. It is no longer part of our regular line up but makes an appearance often as a salsa special at our local farmers markets. When Hot Mama Salsa started as a company the demographic of the Portland market was quite a bit different then it is now. The first few years our spicy salsas were always slow sellers but as more and more people moved in from the south and the millennial generation grew up into independent buyers palates began to change. The fresh salsa line now includes a spicy chipotle Salsa Mexicana and a sweet hot Salsa del Papa Loco.
Two things influenced Nikki to decide to introduce a line of hot sauces to the Hot Mama Salsa line up. The desire for heat was increasing and the customers were asking for hotter more and more. In 2010 Nikki met a farmer named Grey Horton. He had just moved back onto his family’s land on Sauvies Island and was in his first year growing heirloom melons. Nikki asked him if he would ever be interest in growing chili peppers, there were varieties that she wanted to use and she wanted to get them fresh from the local market. Grey wasn’t sure some of the hot varieties would ripen but that first year he planted some without telling Nikki to see how they would do and to her surprise she had chilies de arbol, guajillo, mild jalepenos, serranos, and fresnos all grown right in Portland’s backyard. Lucky for Nikki Grey fell in love with growing peppers and a true working partnership was born. Over the past 8 years Nikki and Grey have sourced seeds from all over the world, grown and learned about new varieties, and Grey has even crossbred a few of his own new hybrids. This relationship allowed Nikki to create and produce products based on chilies that are not even available on the commercial market. The Hot Mama Salsa hot sauce line now includes flavors from Africa, Peru, California, and the Caribbean. There is the roasted carrot Habanero Hot Sauce, the fiery and fruity La Femme Fatali, the sweet and sour El Tamarindo, the traditional Peruvian Aji Amarillo, and the funky fresh Fermented Fresno.
Nikki’s recipes are always drawn from her knowledge of traditional Mexican cooking and flavors and the extensive research that she has done into the origins and traditional uses of chili peppers from around the world. This extensive study and the customers growing desire for ethnic flavors led to the creation of the third Hot Mama Salsa product line. In 2014 Hot Mama Salsa began making chili oils. It is a common occurrence to find a bowl of ground dried chilies in oil on the Mexican table and for years Nikki had been making Chili de Arbol oil for herself. Chili Oil is a mix of dried chilis, garlic, and often nuts or seeds toasted in oil and ground into a paste. It is earthy and nutty and the most delicious rich condiment that you can add to any dish. The line began with the spicy Chili de Arbol Oil which is a traditional accompaniment to Posole and have grown to include a mild sweet Chili Guajillo and a rich Smoky Coffee with black garlic. The Guajillo came about because Nikki’s husband and daughter couldn’t take the heat of the chili de arbol. The Smoky Coffee was a result of customer request for a chili oil with medium heat. The chilies behind the oil line include a few of Nikki’s very favorite Mexican chilies; the chili de arbol, the guajillo, and the chili morita.