Let's cut to the chase: I personally believe that jarred salsa is a perfect food. It's cheap, delicious, and shelf-stable — and I also consider it to be THE greatest of all dips you could ever dunk a chip into. (Guac fans, please don't yell at me.)
When it comes to jarred salsas (and the SERIOUS variety that exists out there), I definitely have certain brands that I reach for over others, mostly just because they're what I'm used to. As I recently perused the chips and salsa aisle at my local grocery store...you know, like you do...I asked myself: Is there any universe in which these salsas taste all that different from one another?! So, I decided to answer that question for myself.
There's no shortage of varieties when it comes to the kinds of jarred salsas that exist in this world: You've got your tomato-based classics, the "thick 'n' chunky" options, salsa verde...I could keep going forever. For the purpose of this taste test, I decided to stick with the smoother, tomato-based varieties, just to make sure all the options were comprised of similar-ish ingredients.
With salsa, there's also another very important distinction to be made: the level of heat. Truth be told, I'm a "the hotter, the better" type of person, but I decided to keep these salsas medium wherever possible. A few on this list were mild (due to shortages at my local grocery stores), but rest assured I didn't factor those slight differences in heat into my overall ranking — I only noted where certain brands seemed hotter or milder than expected.
After conducting some research on the most popular salsas, these were the brands that I ended up tasting. Up first, the ultra-popular classics:
Next, the "house brand" salsas from a couple of popular national stores:
Last, I ended up with four "fancier" (and often pricier) salsas that are still widely available here in the States:
It's also a great excuse to convince my wonderful partner to feed me chips and salsa like a small child in order to avoid staining my clothes blood red until the end of time. Unfortunately, we still had a couple of mishaps...but I'm wearing those stains like a badge of honor. (Thanks, Josh ❤️)
I should also note that for this ranking, the chip selection (as the vehicle for the salsa) was absolutely crucial. There are a few tortilla chip brands that I reaaaally love, but for this test, I went with Mi Niña tortilla chips.
After tasting each salsa, I quickly jotted down my initial thoughts and reactions. I've found that the good ol' paper and pen method tends to work best when it comes to capturing my veryyy specific thoughts — and since I cook and write about food for a living, you better believe my thoughts are just that: specific.
I also did my best to guess the salsa I was tasting in each round...though as you'll see, I didn't exactly nail that challenge. In fact, I only guessed two of them correctly 🙃
When all the salsas were tasted and my thoughts were complete, I ranked them from worst to best, based on the order in which I tasted them. Keep in mind, I still didn't know which one was which yet!
When my partner finally revealed the tasting order (and, consequently, the order in which I ranked them), I was genuinely shocked in some cases...and honestly not that surprised in others.
This is my definitive ranking of jarred salsas — from worst to best.
10. Tostitos — The weird "lime juice" aftertaste was TRULY out of control in this one. Couple that with the fact that it was the wateriest salsa I tasted, and I'm unfortunately placing it dead last. (I know. I'm sad about it too.)
To be clear: It's not that this salsa wasn't palatable. But compared to the others, some of which were truly excellent, I felt that this one was the obvious choice for last place. The main reason? It's difficult to taste anything beyond a strong, ultra-acidic aftertaste that was giving me ~faux lime~ vibes. And when I say strong...I mean STRONG.
In most varieties, that acidic, citrusy punch is a welcome contrast to the other ingredients that normally constitute a salsa — in fact, the vast majority of these salsas contain a bit of vinegar (or apple cider vinegar) for that very reason! But Tostitos, y'all took it too far! I tasted acid and acid only...and that made me sad. (It was also the wateriest of the bunch, which makes perfect sense considering the second ingredient was water.)
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 2/10 🍅
It's watery, ultra-acidic, and likely not worth the money — especially when compared to some of the budget-friendly (and better) salsas we've got coming up. When it comes to Tostitos, stick to Scoops. I know I will.
9. Chi-Chi's — This one was a little bit better than the former...but just marginally. In the texture department specifically, I really can't say I enjoyed it.
Still, I can't exactly say that the taste was in any way pleasant. I also detected a distinct floral taste that felt very out of place, not to mention the chunks of tomato were rather...spongy. All in all: While not awful, I feel prettyyy confident that I wouldn't buy another jar of this one anytime soon.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 3/10 🍅
While it wasn't worth a "last place" award, it still wasn't great, mostly due to its questionably floral aftertaste, spongy tomato chunks, and a strong hint of overly acidic lime flavor.
8. Frontera — "WHY DOES THIS TASTE LIKE MEAT..."
I always feel validated when my partner (who obviously sneaks bites of the products I taste test, he's not a monster) aligns with my very specific thoughts. In this case, our overlapping critique was "IS THERE MEZCAL IN THIS?" In hindsight, that would be impossible...though there's also some part of me that thinks maaaaybe they put the Tequila Borracha flavor in the wrong jar. Regardless, this stuff was smoky as hell with an almost meaty aftertaste — and not in a good way.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10 🍅
If you're averse to smoky foods, stay far, far away from this one. If you love smoky foods...well, I'm not even sure if you'll enjoy this.
7. Newman's Own — As we move from the "yikes" to the "meh," we've got Newman's Own...a more or less acceptable (albeit super sweet) option for a classic jarred salsa.
Newman's Own peach salsa is actually a guilty pleasure of mine. There's something so satisfying about that hit of sweet, peachy goodness, but in their regular salsa, I definitely didn't expect the level of sweetness I tasted. It was nowhere near the syrupy sweetness of their peach version, but it was still the sweetest salsa that I tried in this taste test. Couple that with the fact that there wasn't a whole lot to say in the "flavor" category (the tomatoes and peppers didn't have any sort of distinct taste), and we've arrived at my definitive review: "Meh."
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 5/10 🍅
If you like a salsa that's on the sweeter side, you may very well love this one...but if you prefer a salsa where you taste each and every ingredient, Newman's Own might not be for you.
6. Amy's — While pretty similar to Newman's Own, this one narrowly beat the competition for a few specific reasons in particular.
Though it tasted similar to Newman's Own in terms of its sweetness and consistency, the sweetness didn't totally "bury" the rest of the ingredients as a result. In fact, I actually thought the rest of the ingredients — tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, the usual suspects — tasted...fresh?! Well, fresher than Newman's Own at least, and I was able to pinpoint some of the distinct flavors a bit more. It's also "made with organic tomatoes," which means that (per USDA guidelines) the product contains at least 70% organic ingredients overall. In other words: This salsa contains the most organic ingredients out of any in the bunch.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10 🍅
While similar to Newman's Own in terms of its consistency, level of sweetness, and general ~vibe~, slightly more distinct flavors (that were noticeably fresher) contribute to its half-point lead over its competitor.
5. Herdez — Flavor-wise, don't expect anything absolutely life-changing...but if you're a pico de gallo fan, this salsa "casera" offered a similarly fresh, tomatoey bite that you'd expect in a fresh pico.
The flavors in this salsa didn't pop like they did in some of the others, but I genuinely appreciated how tomato-forward and fresh-tasting this one was. If you tasted this one side-by-side with some pico de gallo, I can't imagine it would be very difficult to pick out the non-jarred one, but Herdez's overall flavor profile did feel vaguely reminiscent of a fresh pico to me — more so than all the other salsa contenders, at least.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10 🍅
If you're looking for a taste bud EXPLOSION when it comes to flavor, this one probably won't fulfill that desire...but if you prefer a salsa that's tomato-forward and tastes super fresh, I'd highly recommend it.
4. Green Mountain Gringo — It's a salsa lover's fave that I'd never actually tried before...now, I wish I could go back in time and discover this one MANY years ago.
If exciting flavors are your #1 concern in a salsa, this one's got you covered. Each and every ingredient really came through here, and they're all really impressive ingredients to begin with — including tomatillos, apple cider vinegar, and fresh garlic and jalapeños. The consistency? Nailed it. It has decently sized bits and pieces of all the usual suspects without feeling overly chunky, and it's not the slightest bit watery.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 8/10 🍅
An impressive roster of ingredients and an A+ consistency made this one pretty irresistible overall, though the addition of cumin to this recipe does dampen the "freshness" of the ingredients a little bit, imo.
3. Trader Joe's — Their salsa autentica was surprisingly delicious, well-balanced, and the most affordable of the bunch. It also packs the perfect amount of crowd-pleasing heat in my opinion: not too much, not too little.
I don't think TJ's is tricking anyone into believing they're using top-notch ingredients here, but frankly, I do not care. This taste test was about taste (surprise!), and they certainly delivered on taste here. I also appreciated the level of heat that this one packed. Most of the salsas I tasted indicated their level of spice right on the front — this one, however, did not. Near the ingredients, you'll see that this one lands a little closer to "hot" than "mild," but I'd call this one a tried-and-true medium. It's not spicy enough that it'll overwhelm anyone sensitive to spice, and not mild enough that spice lovers will be bored. Sure, maybe the flavors in this one weren't as punchy as some of the others, but all things considered, I'll have a hard time not throwing a jar of this into my cart during my next Trader Joe's run.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10 🍅
Though it lacks the fresh garlic, onion, and peppers that some of the other contenders possess, it still delivers on flavor — even if it's not as punchy as my top two picks. It's also the cheapest salsa I tested, which makes me love it even more.
2. Clint's — Of all the salsas I tried, Clint's tasted the most ~interesting~ by far — and in a great way! The layers of flavor in this one were practically endless, but beware: it's also HOT.
The best part of this salsa is the smokiness. Unlike Frontera's salsa, the smoky notes aren't aggressive or overpowering at all, but it does totally enhance all of the other flavors and ingredients. It's likely due to the addition of serrano peppers, which have a natural smoky bite to them. They're also HOT — like, hot hot — which explains why this is perhaps the spiciest "medium" salsa I've ever tasted. I don't say this as a bad thing, but if you're a medium kind of person, definitely opt for mild.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 9/10 🍅
If you like your salsa with a decent kick and a distinct, smoky bite (that certainly doesn't overpower any of the other ingredients), Clint's may have very well been made for you.
1. Whole Foods 365 — I will sing the praises of my favorite new salsa from the mountaintops. No matter what your salsa preferences are, I guarantee you'll find something about this salsa that you will be absolutely obsessed with.
This salsa is marketed as "small batch," and while I can't confirm if that's just clever marketing or reality, I can confirm it's abso-freaking-lutely delicious. More than any of the other salsas I tasted, balance is really the key here. It's pretty much everything you could ever want a salsa to be: pleasantly spicy, packed with flavor (the garlicky notes were particularly delightful), sweet enough without overwhelming your taste buds, and juuuust smoky enough to make things interesting. I found the consistency of this one to be really similar to Green Mountain Gringo, which I gave an A+. TBH, I might have to give this one an A++ due to its thickness — it'll coat each and every chip you dip into it in gorgeous salsa goodness.
Clearly, I'm not alone in my thought process here. It has over 1,000 five-star reviews online, and I completely understand why. Even this person who claims to be "picky about their salsas" is obsessed with it. I've seen this salsa SO many times and never really thought to pick it up until now. Whole Foods, I am BEGGING YOU to never discontinue this salsa so I can enjoy it regularly for the rest of my days.
🍅 OVERALL RATING: 10/10 🍅
Everything about this salsa is just right: from the price to the flavor to the consistency. Honestly, I don't have a single critique to offer at this time....so if you love salsa, I'm begging you to try this one (and then let me know what you think).