The Best Fancy Salsa
In case you were wondering, yes, we at Epicurious have already conducted a thorough taste test of mild, shelf-stable, store-bought salsas. In 2018, armed with 11 easy-to-find supermarket brands (and a ton of tortilla chips for dipping and scooping), the team thoughtfully snacked their way to a winning jar—Desert Pepper’s Divino salsa, ICYMI. Like all Epi taste tests, it was a rigorous process, with worksheets and palate cleansers. Like all Epi taste tests, I treat the result of the salsa review like law.
Recently, however, I hit upon a salsa need that a basic grocery store variety could not meet. Now that I can have people over for dinner in my apartment again, I find myself leveling up every thing: I like busting out pretty cloth napkins, springing for the fancy cheese, and buying flowers for the table, even for casual get-togethers. I wanted to find a salsa that felt a little special too—something slightly more elevated for company, but that I could still pull out of the back of my pantry when needed. So I raided a number of specialty stores and upscale markets in search of the best fancy jarred salsa on the market.
This review is not the result of a formal test. Instead, it’s the ramblings of one salsa-loving woman (hello!) who asks a lot of her dip. I found two brands that I plan to rotate for the foreseeable future, both when entertaining and on nights when a chips-and-salsa dinner is in the cards.
To me, the perfect salsa is fresh-tasting, flavorful, and moderately spicy, so you can easily eat it all day long. I tend to look for jarred salsas that mimic the brightness of truly fresh versions, and shy away from those that are overly sweet, too watery, too acidic, or that taste like the containers they come in (when it tastes like a jar—do you know what I mean?).
I tasted the “original” version of every “fancy” brand I could find—a nebulous categorization, but one generally dictated by price and availability. I ate each at room temperature with chips, mimicking the party scenario where I’d serve these salsas, and evaluated them on flavor, texture, and long-term enjoyability; I wanted to be able to slowly demolish a bowl of the stuff over the course of a few hours and not tire of the flavor or heat level. The two winners passed every test with flying colors, and even though I don’t have team worksheets to prove it, I stand by them as the best you can buy.
For I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-fresh flavor: Kitchen Garden Farm Roasted Chile Salsa
Kitchen Garden Farm’s Roasted Chili Salsa tasted like it came from the refrigerated section of the grocery store, not the shelf-stable salsa aisle. It was almost shockingly fresh in flavor, so much more so than I ever expected to experience straight-out of a room temperature jar. As such, it was a little watery (most fresh salsas are!), but the texture made up for it. This salsa features the ideal happy medium between chunky and smooth (it had a little bite, but no bulky bits that made bringing chip to mouth a balancing act). It also features a delicate heat, which was intriguing but never overpowering. 10/10 will buy again.
Kitchen Garden Farm Organic Roasted Chili Salsa, 11 oz.
For a mild, subtly sweet alternative: La Fundidora Ambar Salsa
La Fundidora has a number of salsa varieties under the same brand umbrella, like the smoky Humo and tomatillo-based Fresca. But its right-down-the-middle offering, called Ámbar, was the one that kept me coming back for more—so much so that I easily finished half a bottle by myself. Though I usually like a little spice, Ámbar is a mild option, with the jalapeños in the ingredient list adding flavor but no heat. Instead, the prevailing eating experience is sweet but in a vegetal way, like you can really taste the produce. I found it delightful, fresh, and subtly textured, which won it a place in my pantry for all last-minute gatherings to come.
La Fundidora Ámbar Salsa, 12 oz.
Tenayo Original Salsa: This salsa is smoky despite not being billed that way. It’s nicely balanced and features a tingly but very manageable heat. You can easily eat this salsa in large quantities. But it also tastes a little jarred, which kept it from a top spot.
Salpica Tomato Jalapeño Salsa: Despite being delightfully fresh in flavor, this version is slightly too loose and watery for a winning fancy salsa variety.
Saso Pepper Co. Classic Roja Salsa: This salsa has a good texture with visible chunks of garlic (a unique feature among the brands I tasted). It has very subtle heat and is quite sweet, so fans of salsas on the milder end of the spectrum would likely enjoy it.
Dreams Aren’t This Good Original Salsa: This salsa is quite salty. It has a nice texture, but because it is also noted to be “best served cold,” it isn’t a great choice to set out at a party.
La Esquina Salsa Diablo: I’m including this is on the list despite it technically being a “hot” salsa because, in actuality, the heat level is much more like a medium. It’s very watery in texture, which can cause it to drip off a chip, but the flavor is nice and fresh.
White Oak Farm and Table Mild Salsa: This salsa is a true mild, with no heat to speak of—but the sweetness is well-balanced. You taste cumin in every bite, which is a welcome flavor component for me.