On a busy fall day at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market, Jesus Islas and José Lopez are just as entertaining as the live banjoist a few feet away. As curious market-goers approach them, Islas and Lopez dole out samples and explain why Betel salsa, chips, and tortillas are the tastiest and healthiest ones around.
In 2015, Islas and Lopez met at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet, where Islas sold homemade salsa and granola, and Lopez sold a hodgepodge of stuff at his neighboring booth. Over the weeks, the Hermosillo natives developed a friendship that quickly evolved into a business partnership. “This [salsa] is how it all started,” Lopez said.
“[Almost] every salsa in Mexico is made with tomatoes,” Islas said. “We are trying to give people something different,” he said, “a salsa with no onions, no cilantro, and no tomatoes.” Inspired by an old quince-based salsa recipe from Hermosillo, Islas developed an apple- and chiltepin-based salsa that was an instant hit.
After joining forces, Islas and Lopez sought advice from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which provided them with a business sponsor and 80 hours of his time. “He was our guide,” Lopez said, advising them on everything from their social media presence to how spicy their salsa should be. Islas and Lopez left the swap meet behind and began selling salsa and granola at farmers’ markets across Tucson.
Although Islas and Lopez initially began by selling salsa and granola, they realized that chips and salsa are a more dynamic duo. “We wanted something from our region,” Lopez said, explaining why they partnered with I Love Maíz, a tortilla company in Mexico, to source tortillas. Before I Love Maíz partnered with Betel, their tortillas were only available in Mexico. “We opened the market for them to come to the U.S.,” Islas said. The two varieties of tortillas from I Love Maíz, which are made from non-GMO corn and either nopales or beets, were so popular that Islas and Lopez proposed that the company turn them into chips. And, they did. The green and red tortilla chips come plain or with a dusting of chile-lime flavor. “You can taste the ingredients,” Lopez said.
“What we were trying to do [was] offer something healthy,” Islas said. “It was the right thing to do,” Lopez added. Betel salsa contains only apples, chiltepins, vinegar, and salt; the gluten free tortillas are 34 calories each; and the chips are baked, not fried. Together, Betel salsa and I Love Maíz tortilla chips make for a healthy snack that anyone can enjoy. “Nobody has anything like this in Tucson,” Islas said.
Luckily, Betel salsa is widely available in the Old Pueblo. You can find Betel salsa, as well as I Love Maíz tortillas and tortilla chips, at farmers’ markets every day of the week. And, when the craving for a healthy snack comes on suddenly, you can find their products at local Tucson markets such as Johnny Gibson’s, the Food Conspiracy Co-op, and Rincon Market.
Shelby Thompson is the online editor of Edible Baja Arizona.