I Tried Every Jarred Salsa I Could Find — And the Winner Transported Me Back to My Childhood

updated Jan 19, 2022
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Salsa taste test
Credit: Sarah Crowley

There is no party food like the quintessential chip-and-dip combo. It’s especially perfect for, what I call, snacking-centric occasions (looking at you Super Bowl), where noshing on delicious bites is as much the point of the gathering as the gathering itself. My favorite combo is salsa and tortilla chips, and while the Mexican side of me yearns for fresh, homemade salsa made from ripe summer tomatoes, the lazy side of me prefers a tasty jarred salsa that’s easily accessible — year round. 

Typically, there are a lot of choices in the jarred salsa section at any grocery store: heat levels, main ingredients, mix-ins, and flavors can make it challenging to find the one jar of red salsa you can stockpile in your pantry for upcoming events or an afternoon snack. (I also LOVE green salsa, but that’s a whole other future post!) I went to several of my neighborhood grocers, stocked up on all of the shelf-stable salsa options I could find, held an official taste test, and ended up picking two favorites. Let’s take a look.

Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

How I Tested the Salsas

To taste the salsas, I knew that at least half had to be Mexican brands — ones that brought me a sense of nostalgia when seeing the label on the grocery shelves of my local Latinx supermarkets. The other half would be general market brands that are popular among the masses and mostly available at big box retail stores. 

Next, I decided on the heat level. Because choosing mild salsas would be a huge disservice to my Mexican culture and taste buds, I went with medium. (I also figured a medium heat level would bring out a stronger flavor profile for each salsa.) Lastly, I tried each salsa by itself and with unsalted white corn chips to mitigate the high sodium that is common in jarred salsas.

Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

The Best Jarred Salsa: La Costeña Homestyle Mexican Salsa

This was the salsa that transported me to my childhood — sitting with my family at my favorite immigrant-owned Mexican restaurant, all of us eagerly waiting for our entrees while we munched on salsa and chips. La Costeña’s blend of tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeño, and chile de arbol give it its deep herbaceous flavor and slightly higher-than-medium heat. The taste delivered what the jar promised: homestyle. Most other brands were either too sweet and mild, or too tomato-forward and bitter, whereas this salsa was aromatic with lots of depth of flavor. While I think La Costeña’s salsa might be too spicy to please every palate, it certainly is the most delicious of the ones I tried.

Buy: La Costeña Homestyle Mexican Salsa Medium, $22.99 for 3 (16.7-ounce) jars at Amazon

Credit: L. Daniela Alvarez

Best Salsa For a Big Crowd: Pace Chunky Salsa

If you’re hosting a get-together where the majority of your guests might not prefer the slight burn of a more traditional Mexican salsa, Pace Chunky Salsa in medium heat is the way to go. It has well-balanced notes of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic with a spicy hint above mild. This chunky-style salsa also pairs perfectly with scooped tortilla chips.

Buy: Pace Chunky Salsa Medium, $2.12 for 16 ounces at Walmart

Do you have a go-to brand of jarred salsa? Tell us about it in the comments below!