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Store-Bought Salsas, Ranked

At its core level, salsa is just a combination of chopped tomatoes, chile peppers, onions, and cilantro leaves with a dash of seasoning and a squeeze of lime. But it's so much more than that. Depending on the meal, the mood, and the bravery of your taste buds on that given day, finding the perfect salsa is an ever-moving target. 

That obsession has spread from coast to coast and into kitchens of all backgrounds. Salsa first dethroned ketchup as America's favorite condiment way back in 1992, when it outsold ketchup by $40 million in retail stores. Since then, other condiments have taken the number one spot, like mayo and sriracha (and ketchup again), but there's no doubt that salsa still has a place in the hearts of Americans — today it's a billion dollar industry. Chips and salsa are standard snack fare for people of all ages, and we can find dozens of salsas on our grocery store shelves. 

From chunky to blended, and from fire roasted to pico de gallo, the options seem endless. Let's take a look at these popular store-bought salsas ranked from worst to best.

Casa Martinez Chipotle Fire Roasted Salsa

You fantasize about that brown roasted salsa from your local authentic taqueria all day long. Picking up the fire roasted chipotle variety of Casa Martinez salsa on your way home from work, you imagine that same roasted goodness on your dinner table. But then you open the jar and it hits you. Not only the synthetic, overpowering fumes from this pungent knockoff, but also the reality that you just wasted your hard-earned money.

Fresh roasted salsa is manna from the señor above. Unfortunately, something typically goes terribly wrong between the time salsa companies put it in a jar and when it hits your grocer's shelves. Casa Martinez attempts to compensate with strong chipotle flavoring but it just doesn't work. This stuff is the salsa version of drinking liquid smoke straight with a vinegar chaser. To make matters worse, you get no redeeming spicy payoff from surviving both the smelly concoction and the building feeling of disappointment. Its spiciness level is somewhere between mild and fermented tomato. Maybe if we head to the Martinez's actual casa we'll be blessed with real, tasty fire roasted salsa. This store-bought roasted salsa? Hard pass.

Jardines Ghost Pepper Salsa

Though we love jumping on the ghost pepper train with everyone else, this is where we jump off. Ghost pepper salsas are supposed to be hot super hot. This one is even labeled "XXX Hot." So, you grab a pitcher of ice water and a bag of chips, and get ready for this salsa to blow your mind with sun-like, scorching heat and booming flavors. But then comes the big letdown. 

First of all, it's not that hot, and more importantly, it's not that good. The flavors don't complement each other, and the texture is just off. Jardines Ghost Pepper Salsa is created with ghost pepper powder rather than oil. Maybe that's the problem? We're not sure. This is considered a "small batch" salsa. Because of that fact, unlike mass produced brands, consistency in flavor, heat, and texture might vary drastically from jar to jar. Perhaps we just had a bum jar?

Frontera Gourmet Mexican Salsa

Frontera Gourmet Mexican Salsas were some of the best salsas you could find on the grocery store shelves up until a few years ago. You'd often see them on the top of best salsa lists. They had tons of varieties to choose from, including favorites like Double Roasted Tomato and Jalapeno Cilantro. Their roasting of the tomatoes was charred deliciousness, and the balance of the peppers, onions, and garlic was teetering on perfection. These salsas were thin, but never watery. But then, things changed.

We aren't sure what happened, but all the Frontera salsas we've had in the last few years have been meh — or less than meh. One Amazon reviewer referred to their Roasted Tomato Salsa as "briny" and that's a good description of many of the Frontera varieties these days. They seem to have too much salt and water, and not enough flavor. They aren't robust or balanced, or even slightly distinctive. Maybe the recipes have changed? Notable chef Rick Bayless sold his company, Frontera Foods, to ConAgra Foods in late 2016. It could be that the massive food conglomerate has changed things up and not for the better.

Newman's Own Mild Salsa

Yes, we know some people love Newman's Own salsas. But we think Paul should have stuck to movies, or popcorn, or even salad dressing. Newman's Own Mild Salsa isn't the worst salsa by any means, but it isn't that good either. The whole pepper balance is out of whack. It's too peppery, meaning black pepper. And it's not peppery enough, in terms of chili peppers. They also use green and red bell peppers in it, which doesn't make it any better, just a little more chewy. 

If this is the only salsa available at your corner store, then it's better than no salsa at all. But if you have any other choice (other than three above on this list), then skip Newman's Own. On the bright side, 100 percent of the profits from all Newman's Own products go to charity. So, if you want to do something kind for someone, you should buy their salsa. But if you want to do something kind for your taste buds, don't.

Trader Joe's Hot Pico De Gallo Salsa

In your local Trader Joe's refrigerator section, you'll find their Hot Pico De Gallo Salsa. The key to happiness with this fresh salsa is making sure you have the hot variety in your cart, not the mild version. The mild one is just too bland and tomato-y, but you'll find a lot to like about this hot salsa. 

To be clear, it's not really all that hot. It's spicy good, but doesn't burn your lips at all. The tomatoes and onions in it taste really fresh, making it a great summer salsa that you'd like to eat outdoors at a picnic. It's a hefty sauce, so you'll need to pair it with some sturdy chips or use it to top off your favorite crispy tacos. What makes it a little different than many pico de gallo-type salsas is Trader Joe's uses lemon juice instead of lime juice, which doesn't make it better necessarily, just different.

La Victoria Suprema Salsa

Odds are you can find La Victoria Suprema Salsa at your local grocery store. There's nothing fancy about it, but it's tasty and cheap. The medium is more like other brands — mild, but it has a nice, fresh flavor. We like to use it to make Mexican rice ⁠— white rice, chicken broth, and La Victoria is about all you need.

One thing to note is the medium Suprema is also onion-free. So, if someone in your family is allergic or your kids just hate onions, it's a great option. The mild version does contain onions, however. This salsa isn't too thick or too thin, but if you like to chew your salsa, then La Victoria Thick 'N Chunky is probably a better choice. If you are looking for fiery heat or a complex flavor profile, you won't find it with La Victoria. However, the best thing about this salsa is it's available in huge containers. Their 67-ounce jug is enough for almost any party.

Tostitos Chunky Salsa

Tostitos Chunky Salsa is a staple in almost every supermarket across the county. You can find it right next to the Tostitos chips and the Tostitos queso. If you want a cheap salsa for dipping that you can find just about anywhere, this is it. This is the good kind of chunky salsa. It's not heavy chunks of tomato floating in a thin, flavorless liquid. It's thick and chunky through and through.

Does Tostitos feature a rich, complex, layered flavor profile that will leave you salivating for more? No. Does it offer three kinds of tenderly roasted chiles and number of hard to find, exotic spices? Absolutely not. But it delivers a nice consistency, a touch of acidity, and a gentle yet peppery heat. In other words, it's perfect for game day, your Cinco de Mayo party, or whenever you feel like grabbing a jar and a bag of chips to hang out on the couch and binge on whatever is binge-worthy this week.

Xochitl Stone Ground Hot Salsa

Fire-roasted tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, and chile de arbol come together nicely to create Xochitl Stone Ground Hot Salsa. This salsa is labeled as "Molcajete style," which means the ingredients are crushed and ground with a mortar and pestle (or these days, a machine that emulates the mortar and pestle results). Though the salsa itself has a nice heat and a unique combination of flavors, some people are not fans of the consistency, comparing it to gazpacho. But seriously, gazpacho's not bad. 

This salsa is adequate for dipping but missing some acidity. It's strength comes when using it in cooking. Adding it to shredded pork or incorporating it into homemade enchilada sauce really delivers something special. One thing we don't like is that this salsa contains sugar ⁠— cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup or anything else evil. But good salsa really shouldn't need any kind of sugar.

Herdez Salsa Verde

Salsa doesn't have to be red to be delicious. Don't hesitate to go green with Herdez's ubiquitous Salsa Verde. Sure, you might be tempted to spice things up but this mild salsa is a classic for good reasons. 

The taste of fresh, flavorful tomatillos is ratcheted up a notch with the perfect amount of cilantro to liven the flavor without becoming overwhelming. When it first enters your mouth, you might be expecting a lime kick, but this green salsa doesn't need that extra acidity. And while Herdez Salsa Verde is rightfully labeled as mild, the chili peppers' authenticity and gentle heat will have you picturing yourself back in your abuela's kitchen. 

Chicken enchiladas just aren't chicken enchiladas unless it's being smothered by this stuff. Not only perfect for recipes, the addition of xanthan gum in this salsa gives it a slightly gooey, gelatinous goodness that is able to hold on to and enhance even the most stubborn of tortilla chips.

Desert Pepper Trading Roasted Tomato Chipotle Corn Medium Salsa

The fire-roasted tomatoes and chipotle chilies deliver rich flavors and a deep color. This is one of the more complex store-bought salsas on the list. It's spicy without being overpowering. It's a little bit smoky. And it's all-around delicious. Yes, it has corn in it. No, that's not a bad thing. The corn adds a little bit of sweetness the complements the roasted tomato beautifully.

Though the weight and texture is great with chips, you'll also love to cook with this salsa. Pour it over chicken breasts in the slow cooker, use it to top off your favorite omelet, or layer it in Mexican lasagna. 

Desert Pepper Trading Company also creates a number of other salsas and other dips worth trying, including their earthy Corn Black Bean Red Pepper Salsa and their blow-your-socks-off XXX Habanero Salsa. Their habanero variety really, really brings the heat, but all that fire still doesn't drown out the flavors.

Green Mountain Gringo Medium Salsa

Just because Green Mountain Gringo seems to be targeting the gringo market doesn't mean this salsa is bland. Actually, the opposite is true. Created with pasilla and jalapeno peppers, this is a true medium salsa with a nice fresh flavor and a touch of heat. 

If you are looking for a scorching flavor profile, you won't find it here. What you will find is a very yummy salsa that is a little unique. At first bite, you get some initial sweetness followed quickly by the right amount of acidity. The acidity comes from the use of apple cider vinegar rather than traditional lime juice. This salsa combines the peppers with both tomatillos and red tomatoes, delivering a really tasty result. Not too chunky, not too runny, this salsa is the perfect topping for nachos or just about anything else gringos (or anyone else) want to eat.

Mrs. Renfro's Hot Habanero Salsa

When it comes to hot salsas, unfortunately many of them are all fire and no flavor, or really just don't deliver the heat. Mrs. Renfro's gets it right all the way around, which is why they're the number one store-bought salsa on our list. Mrs. Renfro's Hot Habanero Salsa offers an amazing balance of spicy goodness. It brings fiery heat, but steam isn't coming out your ears. It's like you want to make sure you have an icy beverage right next to you when you're chowing down on Mrs. Renfro's salsa and chips, but you won't actually need it.

If you are looking for a super chunky salsa, this isn't the one for you. It's on the thinner side, but still saucy enough to cling wonderfully to tortilla chips. It's also perfect in recipes. You can spoon it over eggs, add it into meatloaf, simmer fish in it, slather it pork chops, or pour it over pancakes. (What? No one else does that?) Their habanero salsa isn't the only Mrs. Renfro's product you should buy on the regular. Kick it up a big notch with their Ghost Pepper Salsa or try their world famous Chow Chow relish. Yum!