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[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

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  • Double Roasted Tomato Salsa
  • Jalapeño Cilantro Salsa
  • Habanero Salsa

You can always count on Rick Bayless to put real effort into everything he does. Xoco, his venture into "casual" dining, serves incredible sandwiches and hot chocolate made from cocoa beans roasted in-house. When he decided to tackle airport dining, he came up with Tortas Frontera, which is almost worth missing a flight to try. So it makes sense that his line of jarred salsas are unique and well done.

Of course, you probably already knew that. Frontera was the top pick in our salsa taste test back in 2011, scoring higher than brands that have been in the game for years. But what you may not have known is that Frontera has 13 different salsas on the market (not counting some seasonal offerings, which change so frequently I decided not to include them here).

As he's explored in his many cookbooks, there is far more to salsa than just chopped tomatoes. So it makes sense that the Frontera salsas would extend beyond that to include tomatillos and a number of different chilies.

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Salsa Mexicana, on the left, is chunkier than the Gourmet Mexican salsa.

The salsas are divided into two categories, Salsa Mexicana and Gourmet Mexican. What sets those two categories apart isn't immediately apparent, but there are some key differences: the two offerings in the Salsa Mexicana line feature a combination of fresh and roasted tomato and are chunky, making them look similar to other jarred salsas; the Gourmet Mexican line takes the roasting far more seriously—each has a noticeable roasted aroma and thousands of little blackened flecks of tomato and chili skin mixed in. The consistency is also much thinner, but not watery. Dip into it with a chip and the salsa admirably grips on for dear life.

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Given how much we liked Frontera Salsa when we originally tried it, I decided to sample the entire line. Here are my thoughts:

Salsa Mexicana

Red Tomato Salsa Mexicana, Mild

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Bright, chunky, and very mild, this is the salsa to put for people who don't appreciate even the slightest hint of spice. The "mild green chiles" mentioned on the label are mostly Anaheims, which are just a step above bell peppers on the Scoville scale heat chart. Still, the mix of roasted and fresh tomato means that it has some character, while the cilantro adds some freshness.

Red Tomato Salsa Mexicana, Medium

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If you don't mind a bit of heat, the medium version is definitely the way to go. It's more dynamic and interesting, mostly due a better balance of spice and acidity. The jalapeños provide a nice background of heat, but never become overwhelming. The hunks of tomato are juicy and distinct, not mushy, providing a nice pop of tartness when you bite in. If you're looking to replace your regular jarred salsa to eat with chips, this is probably the best place to start.

Gourmet Mexican Salsa

Roasted Tomato Salsa, Mild

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The differences between this line and the Salsa Mexicana are immediately apparent here. It has a vibrant red color and a thin and viscous texture that likes to latch on to chips. All of its tomatoes are roasted, lending the salsa a deeper and more rounded tomato profile. Even though it's rightly labeled as mild, it does have a dark and earthy chili profile, which I enjoyed. That also means that it might be kind of intense if taken straight with chips. This is probably better drizzled over eggs.

Double Roasted Tomato Salsa, Medium

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The roasted tomatoes here are vibrant and engaging, with a deep roasted profile and a prominent heat. This has actually been my go-to store-bought salsa for the past few years, and while I usually devour the whole jar with chips, it's equally good at sprucing up most tacos.

Jalapeño Cilantro Salsa, Medium

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This was the one that won our best salsa competition a few years ago, and it's easy to see why. Thanks to the jalapeño, it's both spicier and more engaging than the roasted tomato. But what I found really appealing about the salsa was the cilantro, which adds freshness to each bite. Like the Double Roasted Tomato, this is a fantastic multiple-purpose salsa, ready for any task.

New Mexico Red Chile Salsa, Medium

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There are actually three chilies stuffed in this jar: roasted red peppers provide texture and sweetness, mild New Mexico red chilies add depth and earthiness, and arbol chilies bring the heat. They all add up to an amped up salsa, which proves that chilies have more to offer than just straight heat. This is also the chunkiest salsa in this line, and just begs to be served with chips.

Guajillo Salsa, Medium

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As the name suggests, this is all about the guajillo chili, which explains the deeply earthy and robust flavor. It's also slightly bitter, though there is an underlying fruitiness. Though tomatoes are included, tomatillos are the first ingredient, making this salsa tangier and more acidic. I would advise against serving this salsa with chips. Instead, it's meant to be used as a flavor base for a quick dinner—the jar suggests serving it with shrimp, though just about any protein would love to be enveloped in this salsa.

Tomatillo Salsa, Medium

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I've never been a big fan of jarred tomatillo salsas, but this one is bright and bold, with some nice chunks of tomatillo mixed in. It's also spicy, even if it is only labeled medium, so this may not be the best go-to salsa for chips. This one is probably best used as a base for a meal—mixing in shredded roast chicken was my first thought.

Chipotle Salsa, Hot

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I expected this one to really bring the heat, so I was initially disappointed that it didn't immediately attack. But keep eating, and the burn continues to build and build. It's also not as smoky as I expected, but I did enjoy the zing provided by the tomatillos. Skip the chips with this one, and try to incorporate it into a meal, such as drizzled on tacos.

Habanero Salsa, Hot

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Now, here's a hot one! I don't think I've ever encountered a jarred salsa that comes anywhere close to the fire of this one. But this isn't just about pure pain: the habaneros lend a truly alluringly fruity flavor (I picked up hints of pineapple). Of course, if you're not into spice, you won't appreciate any of the intricacies. But if you love chili-induced mouth sweats like I do, this truly impressive salsa is a must try.

Mango Key Lime Salsa, Medium

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I have to admit that I expected to hate this one, so imagine my surprise when this turned out to be another one of my favorites. Unlike so many fruit salsas, this one isn't sickeningly sweet. In fact, there's a genuine kick to each bite. This one was made to serve with chips, though I can see it working with tacos.

Roasted Corn Salsa

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The first few bites were a little disappointing, because I couldn't detect much corn or spice. Then I realized I needed to stir the jar to get bring up some of the pieces of corn and poblano. The chunks provide most of the flavor here, lending sweetness and a smoky heat. It's another good salsa for chips, especially if you prefer a chunkier salsa.

Spanish Olive Salsa

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If you don't like olives, you need to stay as far away from this one as possible, because it's not the least bit shy about its olive profile. But even if you do like olives, it's one of the strangest options to serve with chips. Instead, this is one destined for fish a la Veracruzana, an olive and tomato sauce specialty of Veracruz.

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