What Is Cowboy Caviar? And What’s the Controversy with It on TikTok?

I love “big mess salads.” I’m talking about those non-lettuce based salads that have so many ingredients in them that they challenge the definition of a salad. One example of a big mess salad? Cowboy caviar, a thing I didn’t even know existed until it went semi-viral on TikTok. What’s cowboy caviar? Does it even have anything to do with fish? Saddle up, partners, and let’s dip into this regional gem.

What is cowboy caviar?

Cowboy caviar’s origin story starts with chef Helen Corbitt. In 1940, she was the food director at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas and added something called Texas caviar to the menu, which later was dubbed cowboy caviar.

The dish is a type of bean salad with black beans and black-eyed peas as the primary ingredients. Initially, Corbitt pickled the beans, dressed them with a vinaigrette, and mixed in some diced peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Sure, it’s a bean “salad,” but it is equally suitable as a dip with tortilla chips.

How to make cowboy caviar?

As cowboy caviar grew in popularity in Texas, each at-home chef would put their own special twist on the dish. Let’s take as an example, the cowboy caviar recipe from TikToker Bria Lemirande.

Bria’s cowboy caviar ingredients include the following: bell pepper, red onion, canned corn, canned black beans, canned black eyed peas, mango, feta cheese, both fresh and candied jalapeños, black olives, and avocado. Her dressing is a mix of olive oil, white wine vinegar, lime juice, taco seasoning, black pepper, spicy honey, sugar, and candied jalapeño juice.

What was the cowboy caviar TikTok controversy?

After Bria’s recipe got popular on TikTok, several people called her out for cultural appropriation, claiming that cowboy caviar was a white-washed version of the popular Mexican salsa, pico de gallo, which is traditionally made with chopped tomato, onion, serrano peppers, and cilantro. 

Bria issued an apology, which split the internet even further on whether or not that was even necessary; some people pointed out that her recipe didn’t even include tomato or cilantro, two of the main ingredients in pico de gallo. 

There is no doubt at all that Mexican culinary traditions had a huge influence on the cuisine of Texas and the Southwestern United States, and you can see a lot of that influence in Bria’s and other peoples’ cowboy caviar recipes. But if I had a bowl of cowboy caviar and a bowl of pico de gallo on a table in front of me, I’d be hard pressed to say they were even in the same category.

At the end of the day, there is a line somewhere in between the two that I will not try to define. I am just going to be happy that I live in a world where pico de gallo and cowboy caviar can exist together.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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