Jarred Hot Salsas

Published April 1, 2008. From Cook's Country.

Are hot salsas better than mild?

Overview:

We don’t like jarred salsa. Yes, we know it’s now America’s favorite condiment, but previous taste tests have been disappointing. Almost no jarred salsas have reached “recommended” status, and none have come close to the allure of homemade fresh salsa. But our prior taste tests have focused on mild and medium varieties. Might jarred hot salsas be more interesting than their timid cousins?

To find out, we sampled nine national brands and were surprised that most tasters didn’t need to quell the burn with cold milk or water as they nibbled. Only three salsas were considered sufficiently hot, and none were excessively incendiary.

These hot salsas were livelier and better than the mild salsas we’ve tasted in the past, with eight of the nine receiving passing grades. But even the best of the bunch were merely good, not great, and didn’t approach the quality of fresh salsa. Why? Good salsa relies on the interplay of fresh vegetable flavors and textures. Jarred salsas have the freshness and crispness cooked out of them.

Our first- and… read more

We don’t like jarred salsa. Yes, we know it’s now America’s favorite condiment, but previous taste tests have been disappointing. Almost no jarred salsas have reached “recommended” status, and none have come close to the allure of homemade fresh salsa. But our prior taste tests have focused on mild and medium varieties. Might jarred hot salsas be more interesting than their timid cousins?

To find out, we sampled nine national brands and were surprised that most tasters didn’t need to quell the burn with cold milk or water as they nibbled. Only three salsas were considered sufficiently hot, and none were excessively incendiary.

These hot salsas were livelier and better than the mild salsas we’ve tasted in the past, with eight of the nine receiving passing grades. But even the best of the bunch were merely good, not great, and didn’t approach the quality of fresh salsa. Why? Good salsa relies on the interplay of fresh vegetable flavors and textures. Jarred salsas have the freshness and crispness cooked out of them.

Our first- and third-place salsas came closest to replicating the fresh flavors and colors of homemade salsa, in part because they had high percentages of tomatoes and vegetables: The test kitchen measured both at around 60 percent solid matter by weight. (By comparison, the lowest-rated salsa contains just 45 percent solids.) Our second-place brand contains an average amount of solids (51 percent) but uses roasted tomatoes to produce a fiery salsa that our tasters appreciated for its complexity.

Our advice: If you’re going to buy jarred salsa, go for the hot stuff.

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