"Cowboy caviar" has officially broken the internet — or, at least TikTok. Although this savory side dish has been a staple in some parts of the country since it was first created in the ’40s, it's recently been the source of some controversy online, sparking conversations about cultural appropriation in food.
But what is cowboy caviar? What are the ingredients in this trending snack food? And how do you make it?
Melissa Lochhead, a San Antonio, Tex.-based content creator and blogger behind Casual Epicure, remembers eating the dish when she was a young girl. "A traditional 'Texas caviar' recipe, sometimes called cowboy caviar, was created by [a Neiman Marcus head chef named] Helen Corbitt in 1940 and is made from black-eyed peas, cilantro, garlic, red bell pepper and red onion and topped with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing," Lochhead tells Yahoo Life. "This dish has been a New Year's Day tradition [in my family] since before I was born in the ’70s."
In May, Bria Lemirande, a food and lifestyle creator, posted a TikTok that showed her making cowboy caviar for the first time. As a child, she shared, she would eat the dish, and now wanted to recreate it for the first time herself. The video, and subsequent others where Lemirande continued to make the dish, garnered millions of views and prompted other creators to try the recipe as well. Quickly, this fun foodie trend began to cause controversy.
Some members of the Latinx community felt the dish was an appropriation of pico de gallo, a popular salsa originating in Mexico, which typically calls for chopped tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, salt, lime and cilantro. Others compared it to other salsa-style dips and even ceviche, a Peruvian dish made from marinated raw fish.
Yahoo Life reached out to Lemirande for comment, but did not receive a response, however, she shared a TikTok about the Cowboy Caviar controversy that's received almost three million views.
"I am so sorry to anyone and everyone that I offended by making cowboy caviar," she says in the TikTok. "I didn't make the name. I'm not claiming to own the recipe ... but I do 100% see how cultural appropriation comes into play here. Referring to it as cowboy caviar ultimately gives no credit to the hispanic culture that it originated from, essentially then erasing the culture from the dish altogether."
Of course, Lemirande is not the first to post the dish to social media platforms: A Pinterest or internet search will bring up thousands of recipes across social platforms and blogs, and grocery chains like Trader Joe's have been selling a shelf-stable jarred version of the dip for many years.
Aldi is the most recent grocery chain to get in on the trend by offering a seasonal Texas caviar, inspired by growing interest in the dish. "Social media has a significant influence on anyone looking to try new foods," Kate Kirkpatrick, director of communications at Aldi U.S. tells Yahoo Life, "We stay on top of the latest trends and do our best to deliver new products that excite and surprise our shoppers."
Aldi's Texas caviar retails for $3.29 and first appeared on store shelves in late July. The product is an "Aldi Find" — a line of products that drop each week and are trendy or seasonal — which means it will only be available while supplies last.
Mike Kostyo, associate director and trendologist at food and beverage market research company Datassential, says it's not surprising that cowboy caviar is seeing a resurgence.
"As a country we love salsa," he says, "In fact, [75%] of consumers say they love or like salsa overall, which ranks it within America's top 150 foods and flavors of the over 4,000 that we track."
In addition, Kostyo shares that cowboy caviar's popularity may be attributed not only to its delicious flavor, but also to the simplicity with which it can be created and the fact that many are already familiar with the dish.
"We continue to see dishes that are basically chopping and assembling ingredients do well on TikTok," he says. "They don't require extensive cooking skills, they have clear step-by-step instructions and it's easy for each creator to swap a few ingredients and create their own version."
"Dishes like cowboy caviar, which have actually been around for decades, also have an added benefit in that there will be some awareness already baked in, so it makes for a very active comment section," he adds. "You see a lot of commenters saying they remember when their mom or grandmother made a variation on it, which inspires nostalgia."
Anna Silver, Idaho-based founder of Cook for Folks, says the dish is not only a regional favorite, but also has served as a delicious, nutritious and affordable option for decades. "This vegetarian salad is certainly a staple in American cuisine — joked to be a cheaper, but just as tasty, alternative to caviar," she says. "It has become so popular because of its high protein content, due to the numerous beans and the fact that it only takes ten minutes to cook. It will last in the refrigerator for a while, too."
Silver shares her top tip for creating the most flavorful batch for your next barbeque or weeknight dinner.
"I would actually recommend leaving the salad to infuse once you have put it all together, for at least an hour," she says. "The main thing about beans is they are great at absorbing flavor, so the longer you leave the beans with the herbs and other flavors, the more delicious they will become."
Looking to recreate the dish in your kitchen? Lochhead shares her recipe, which she says is an update on a classic family recipe, perfect to serve chilled this summer.
Courtesy of Melissa Lochhead
1 tablespoon lime zest
4 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed (approximately 2 limes)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
15 ounces black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn, drained and rinsed (if utilizing canned)
¼ cup red onion, diced
½ cup avocado, cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup mini peppers, diced
½ cup grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced
2 scallions, chopped
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, sugar, garlic powder and lime zest. Set aside.
Drain and rinse black-eyed peas, black beans and corn.
In a large bowl combine black-eyed peas, black beans, corn, red onion, avocado, peppers, tomatoes, scallions and cilantro.
Pour dressing over salad and mix gently.
Serve with your favorite main dish or as an appetizer with chips.
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