“Wherever you can find a bottle of Salsa Lizano, you can also find a Tico.” — Costa Rican saying
It’s tart, it’s smoky and it’s slightly sweet. And – just ask any Costa Rican – it’s good on pretty much everything. I’m talking of course about Salsa Lizano, perhaps Costa Rica’s greatest culinary sensation.
Put it this way: the clay-colored thrush is the country’s national bird and the Guanacaste its national tree. If Costa Rica had a national condiment, it would most certainly be Salsa Lizano.
In Costa Rica, an astounding sense of national pride is associated with this flavor. It can be found on any table in any restaurant in the entire country, because Ticos like to add it to countless types of food: like gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, steak, cheeseburgers, chicken, rice and sometimes even beer (think Micheladas).
With the influx of foreigners coming to visit Costa Rica each year, it’s not just the locals that are addicted. If I had a nickel for every tourist that came to visit and got completely hooked, I could buy – well, probably quite a few mega-sized jugs of Lizano sauce.
Inspiration for the irresistible taste of Salsa Lizano can actually be traced all the way back to England and India. Legend has it that in the early 1800s, a rich, well-traveled English family had a hankering for Indian curry. They recruited two chemists from Worcester, England to concoct a substance close enough to satisfy their curry craving.
The chemists’ names were John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins, and they first bottled and sold their fermented mixture under the name Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce in 1837. Lea and Perrins’ sauce made its way into Costa Rican consciousness in the early 1900s. Known in Spanish as salsa inglesa, it was an immediate hit.
Meanwhile in a little tavern in Alajuela, a bar-owner named Prospero Jimenez was experimenting with the pickling process. When Worcestershire sauce became the talk of the town, it inspired Jimenez to use his pickling knowledge to come up with something even better: Salsa Lizano.
But how did this iconic sauce get its name? Well, Jimenez passed his secret recipe on to a man nicknamed “Cuyo” (a loyal employee that worked for the company for 40+ years!). Cuyo took the recipe to another man named Prospero – Prospero Lizano – who owned a factory that could mass-produce it. They named the sauce after the factory owner that would produce it, and that’s how a legend was born.
Fun fact: Salza Lizano doesn’t contain any meat products, so it’s safe for vegetarians. The ingredients are: water, sugar, iodized salt, vegetable concentrate, molasses, spices (contains mustard and celery), modified corn starch (thickener), acid acetate, hot pepper, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, sodium benzoate as a preservative.