In a contest of store-bought salsas, can Austin brands beat the national ones?

Over three days, we sampled more than a dozen store-bought salsas to try to find some favorites.
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Over three days, we sampled more than a dozen store-bought salsas to try to find some favorites.
Over three days, we sampled more than a dozen store-bought salsas to try to find some favorites.

Over three days, we sampled more than a dozen store-bought salsas to try to find some favorites.

We all know we can’t trust salsas from New York City. But what about those from our own backyard?

As I worked on today’s big Cinco de Mayo salsa story, I also knew that today, May 4, is Star Wars Day (“May the fourth be with you”) — so why not have a Salsa Wars taste test among the local options?

I scoured local stores to buy as many salsas as I could find — and though I know I didn’t get them all, I brought more than a dozen back to the office for my newsroom peers to try.

Over the course of three days, we sampled all of them, including one or two homemade ones I threw in and one national brand that was not Pace. So, how did the local companies stack up? Not well, my friends. Not well.

In the end, the roasted tomato salsa from chef Rick Bayless’ Frontera brand ($3.99), which is based in Chicago, won the poll. It was too sweet and relish-like for my tastes, but it pleased lots of palates around here. I’m not sure if that says more about the salsa or the palates, but that it won over so many people has to mean something.

My personal favorite, which tied for second overall, was D.L. Jardine’s Homestyle Mild ($4.99), a “familiar” salsa that had a “balance of flavors” with “complex peppers,” my colleagues reported. Ana’s Salsa Original Medium ($3.99), which is sold in the refrigerated section of many area stores, earned enough votes to round out the top three. “It’s exactly what you’d expect at a restaurant,” one co-worker said when she tasted it.

Four other salsas that did well in the earlier rounds but didn’t make it to the finals were Two Hot Mama’s Medium Salsa Roja ($5.39), Jaime’s Spanish Village’s Medium Red Salsa ($5.99), Pride of Texas Medium ($3.99) andRoyito’s Hot Sauce ($5.69).

The Two Hot Mama’s chunky salsa was packed with cumin, so much so that it left many debating whether they’d eat it with chips or instead using it in cooking. Both the Pride of Texas and Jaime’s salsas, the latter a remnant of the downtown Mexican restaurant that operated for nearly 80 years before closing in 2010, had a nice kick — more than many other options on the table — but not overly so. Royito’s, a side project from GSDM co-founder Roy Spence, was the thinnest of all the salsas we tried — some might have even called it watery. But it was too chunky to be served in a traditional hot sauce bottle, which makes it a salsa in my book, and it had enough heat to make up for all that liquid.

The rest of the local salsas we tried earned few votes and lots of “ewwws.” I know that these entrepreneurs put a lot of effort into their products, but, unfortunately, their salsas went into the “cannot recommend” category: Texas Texas, Salt Lick, Austin Slow Burn, Austin Grand Prize Hot Sauce, Natalie’s, Concha’s, Zilk’s, Sabor and Silver Star.

This was by no means a comprehensive sampling of salsas, but I did cover up the labels so that people did not know what they were tasting during each session.


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