Taste Test Tuesday: Store-Bought Salsa

19 tasters, 12 jars, 1 extra-large bag of chips

Since we put tortilla chips to the test back in February, we’ve been meaning to give some scrutiny to store-bought salsa as well. After all, it’s certainly faster, easier, and cheaper to crack open a jar than make your own at home. Nineteen of our finest tasters put a dozen brands of medium-heat, store-bought brands to the test and ranked them from 1 to 5 on both flavor and texture (190 total points would be a perfect score). 

While we had a lot of preconceived preferences—fresh ingredients, not tomato paste; few additives, and an attention to authentic recipes—turns out tasters were more concerned with texture than anything else. Thin salsas, no matter how delicious, scored low points, while chunkier varieties made their way to the top. Ultimately, none of the jarred offerings were on par with the freshly made stuff, and lo, even the winners didn’t wow us.

 

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Frontera Jalapeno Cilantro Salsa

Score: 51.5

We had high hopes for this salsa from celebrity chef Rick Bayless. While flecks of skin indicated that they were using fresh tomatoes (and giving them a traditional char), tasters found it “too watery,” comparing it to “salsa soup,” and, ultimately, it landed at the bottom of the pack.

 

 

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Xochitl Chipotle Salsa

Score: 67

Xochitl’s chips were middle of the pack in our aforementioned tortilla test, but their salsa fell to the bottom of the rankings, with samplers commenting that it “looks and tastes like bad tomato sauce,” and, “I would give this less than one, if possible.”

 

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Trader Joe’s Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa

Score: 74.5

This tomatillo salsa actually featured tomatoes as its first ingredient, so we gave it a try. And while it “looks authentic” and was “not too artificial tasting,” its “watery” texture didn’t sit well with our tasters.

 

 

 

 

Ortega Homestyle

Score: 78

A major supermarket brand, Ortega got poor scores for being “bland,” “overly sweet,” and “horrible, like ketchup.”  

 

 

 

 

Trader José’s Salsa Autentica

Score: 90.5

Tasters loved the fresh flavor of this authentic-style salsa from Trader Joe’s, but wanted a thicker consistency, calling it “a bit drippy [with] excellent flavor” and lamenting it “would be perfect with a chunky texture.”

 

 

 

Amy’s

Score: 100

“Meh” seemed to be the consensus for this organic brand. While tasters generally liked the texture, the flavor got low scores for seeming “processed,” as if it were made with “tomato paste.” 

 

 

 

Green Mountain Gringo

Score: 102

While Green Mountain came in dead-last in our tortilla-chip test, we were much more positive toward the salsa, calling it “very chunky and spicy.” Still, some tasters disliked the addition of non-traditional spices (“it tastes like chili”) and felt there was “too much going on.”

 

 

 

 

Newman’s Own

Score: 113

Comments were overwhelmingly positive for this brand (which donates all its proceeds to charity). Tasters cited its “good balance of spice, texture, and flavor” and “good consistency.”

 

 

Chi-Chi’s

Score: 117.5

Chi-Chi’s got high marks for flavor, with tasters loving its “balanced tomato flavor” and “nice little kick.”

 

 

 

 

Third Place

365 Organic

Score: 119

This Whole Foods brand was deemed “pretty good,” with tasters liking it’s “nice blend of flavors” and traditional texture.

 

 

 

Second Place

Pace

Score: 128.5

We loved both the flavor and texture of this big-name supermarket brand. It was “slightly sweet, yet spicy,” with a “good flavor balance.” “It tastes like fresh tomatoes,” one individual remarked, with a texture that was “chunky but not overbearing.”

 

 

 

​Tostitos Chunky Salsa

Score: 139.5

Ultimately, the chunky texture and familiarity of this salsa helped it reign supreme. Tasters also loved the flavor, saying it had “more tomato” and just the “right amount of spice.” 

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