Taste Tests

We taste the leading brands to find the distinct differences and rate them with tasting scores.

Taste Test: Best Salsa

Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Taste Test: Best Salsa

[Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

The Winners!

Frontera
Green Mountain Gringo

It doesn't get much more braindead-easy than popping open a jar of salsa and a bag of chips. Instant party.

Of course it's always more exciting to squeeze all the lime juices out yourself and chop up vine-picked tomatoes with fresh, bright cilantro—but sometimes you have a herd of friends coming over in five minutes, and you need to go the jarred route. How many people have you met that don't like chips and salsa? Well, they don't sound like much fun.

With Super Bowl ahead (and Cinco de Mayo and all the Taco Tuesdays), we were curious about store-bought salsas. So we opened two bags of tortilla chips (edible spoons!) and tried 17 different brands. All of the the salsas were of "medium" heat level and tomato-based ("the red kind"). No corn, mango, black beans, or any of that jazz was invited to this party.

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Brands We Tried

Newman's Own
Herdez
Green Mountain Gringo
Chi-Chis
Taco Bell
El Paso
Amy's Organic
La Costeña
Tostito's
Frontera
Spike's
Trader Joe's (Salsa Authentica)
Muir Glen
Ortega
La Victoria
Pace
Whole Foods 365

The Criteria

The salsa should have a bright flavor balanced with a kick of spice. It shouldn't punch you in the throat (it's just medium, not hot or X-TRA HOT) but it should get your attention. We don't want to confuse this for spaghetti sauce. Texturally, it should be chunky with tomatoes, chile pepper bits, and onions.

Why the Losers Lost

One of the most common offenses: salsa that tasted more like the tomato paste goo in Spaghetti-O's than salsa. Some were way too spiced (hello, black pepper) but not spicy. Others, too sweet and syrupy—what is this, a maple syrup tasting? And no thank you to anything "tinny" or "dirty-tasting." Texture was also critical: "ketchup water" with "squishy rubbery chunks" is not what we wanted.

When it's too runny, it just falls off the chip. Where are these salsas going? We don't want our salsas to be marathon runners.

Our Favorites

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Frontera

This is chef Rick Bayless's line of salsas, and the only one we had to special order (you can find it at select stores, they just weren't near SEHQ). It tasted the most like real salsa, where you could actually picture a real person crushing the garlic and jalapeños with a mortar and pestle. It has a very prominent smoky, charred flavor. Some tasters found it too "funky," but the majority liked the roasted depth. It's slightly sweet but balanced with acidic tang. It also didn't have the tomato paste texture that many others did.

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Green Mountain Gringo

Before we started, many SE'rs admitted this was their go-to brand. And even after the blind tasting, the same crew of GMG fanboys and girls ended up ranking this the highest. "Fairly chunky with a nice heat," agreed tasters. It's made with ripe tomatoes, not tomato juice or puree (common in other salsas) and cider vinegar, which you don't see in salsas too often. The texture was ideal for tortilla chip scooping; not runny at all. The salsa stays where it should—on the chip!

Read more about all the recommended brands here »

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