Over the last year, testing countless foods and writing about ’em for our Taste Off series has become one of my favorite things to do. Friends are constantly asking, what are you taste testing next? and volunteering to participate in the blind taste tests to find the best of whatever category comes next. Trying products back-to-back really does highlight differences that I may not have noticed otherwise. I truly love the process and experimentation, and it’s always an enlightening experience. At least, it has been… until now.
When I thought about taste testing and finding the best jarred salsa from the store, I thought it would be a cinch. I’m a Texan after all, and I grew up surrounded by the most delicious salsas, both fresh and locally jarred. (Any Texan knows the selection at HEB is top-tier, and have y’all tried this brand that went viral on Twitter?) Since moving to the Midwest after college, real-deal salsa is harder to come by, and my appreciation for the good stuff has only increased.
However, when I sought out salsas from the stores around me, I was less than impressed. This might be the first time I found myself in disagreement with my taste testers. But of course, that’s why I don’t taste test in a vacuum. I want the most unbiased and honest feedback I can get when trying different products. Because as we all know, everyone’s tastes and preferences are different — and that couldn’t be more true than when trying to determine the best jarred salsa on the market.
While I might be in disagreement with my eight taste testers’ rankings, I’ve included our notes so y’all can make an informed, best jarred salsa decision. And because there was so much back and forth, I need to know where you land on the results. Let the taste test commence.
The Ranking Guardrails for Finding the Best Jarred Salsa
Salsas come in a wide variety of textures, flavors, and spices. For this taste off, we stuck to products that were listed as Medium Chunky. We felt that medium-level spice was the best segment for testing purposes and that having a chunky as opposed to smooth texture was also important in judging. So when it came to a “classic” jarred salsa, below are the guidelines we used for ranking the best jarred salsa.
- Flavor. When it comes to a salsa, our taste testers were looking for a fresh flavor that would be reminiscent of restaurant salsa (a tall order) with a nice kick of heat. Points would be docked if a salsa was too acidic or sour, or if the tomatoes covered up too much of the flavor.
- Texture. An important note: not everyone likes a chunky salsa. I like texture, but I don’t want chunks that feel separate from each other. The chunky tomatoes, onions, and peppers shouldn’t taste raw and should have a nice overall texture that adds to the experience. No one likes a watery salsa.
- The Double Dip Test. Would you double dip your chip into the salsa? Is the salsa good enough to go back for seconds? These are the important questions.
For a true comparison, all of the salsas were tasted on their own, straight off a spoon. And of course, nothing pairs better with salsa than corn tortilla chips.
Many of the bottom-ranking salsas in our taste off drew similar notes from our testers. And we were all in agreement (yes, even me!) when it came to our qualms. Here’s what we found:
- Trader Joe’s salsa tasted watery and sour when compared to the others.
- Silver Star was another pass, as its claim to being ‘restaurant style’ didn’t feel true (plus, it had the most watery texture of the salsas selected).
- Local Folks Foods was fine, but the flavor was a little off. Testers noted that this could be attributed to the fact it came in ‘garden variety’ with the addition of celery and bell peppers.
- Tostito’s ended up ranking low with a bland and slightly sour flavor, though testers noted a slight heat on the backend that they liked.
- And while Good and Gather had a little more spice than Tostito’s, tasters though it was almost too tomato-y.
Overall, the bottom rankers all lacked in areas that our taste testers were really looking for. Not so great on flavor, not so great on texture, and no double dips.
Two of the best jarred salsa contenders fell somewhere between not-so-great and pretty good. Whole Foods 365 landed in the middle for its texture, though there were notes from taste testers who were looking for more spice and flavor. Green Mountain was a real runner-up because of its complex flavor. It was smokier than any of the other salsas and overall had a flavor that people enjoyed.
So, Which Was the Best Jarred Salsa?
3. Late July Organic Salsa, Thick and Chunky Medium
Overall, I thought this salsa was fine. Our taste testing panel all noted that this was a really good basic salsa that ticked the boxes they were looking for. While no one was particularly blown away by it, it was one that we all kept coming back to for seconds and thirds. It was also the salsa of choice for testers who did not personally prefer a chunky salsa but thought it was a good option. This jar earned top comments for being a good go-to salsa to have on hand.
2. Desert Pepper Cantina Medium Salsa
I actually enjoyed this salsa. While it wasn’t super spicy, the flavor was balanced and smooth compared to some of its more acidic or sour counterparts. Taste testers noted that they wanted a little more heat to punch up the salsa, though some of our Midwestern testers who weren’t particularly keen on spice thought it was perfect. The texture was also pretty good compared to the other salsas. We actually ended up finishing the tasting bowl of salsa we had on the table! Solid marks on flavor and texture, though it could still use a little extra punch.
1. Pace Medium Chunky Salsa
Yep, I’m as shocked as you are. Perhaps I haven’t given this salsa the credit it deserves, but my taste testing panel consistently ranked this one as their favorite jarred salsa. Notes mentioned that this salsa had the best balanced flavor when it came to judging how the heat and spice mixed in with the ingredients. It wasn’t sour or too acidic like some of the other salsas and had a little bit of creeping heat without being too spicy. The texture was pretty good and the entire bowl was finished by the end of the taste test. Our taste testing panel agreed that this earned best jarred salsa status for simply being an all-around solid pick.
After trying all the salsas I could get my hands on here in Chicago, I’ve concluded that the only way to get my hands on the good stuff is to have my favorite salsas shipped from Texas. That’s right, my salsa-lovin ‘heart knows no bounds, and I can’t wait for that first satisfying chip-dip into Hello to Mark’s Good Stuff and Clint’s from HEB. I also have plans forming on the horizon to venture into more flavored varieties like green, corn, and chipotle salsas. And I’ll leave you with this pro tip: Try stocking up on salsas from your favorite local restaurant. Because let’s be real, as good as the best jarred salsa is, it can’t beat homemade.
Do you agree with our taste testers? Share your go-to jarred salsa with us in the comments!