Nut Butter Is Your Secret To Totally Elevated Store-Bought Salsa

Jarred salsa is a convenient way to satisfy your craving for something spicy. Whether you're dipping into it with crunchy tortilla chips or having it as a topping on tacos, nachos, or quesadillas, its tangy zing is always satisfying. No matter if you like it mild or picante — even straight from a jar — it gives a pop of freshness to whatever you're eating. Depending on which brand you buy, however, it might benefit from a bit of oomph. Surprisingly, nut butter is the key to giving store-bought salsa that extra pizzazz.

While, in American cuisine, we usually associate nut butters (such as peanut butter) with sweets or dessert foods, other cultures have long embraced them in savory dishes as well. Consider the exquisite preparation of Thai peanut sauce made with chilis, garlic, ginger, lime, soy, and sometimes fish sauce. Or a comforting bowl of West African peanut soup made with tomatoes, ginger, sweet potatoes or yams, black pepper, and chicken.

Latin American foods have also long utilized peanuts in both sweet and savory dishes. In fact, peanut butter originated with ancient Aztecs and Incas, and peanuts themselves are native to Bolivia. Mexican cooks have been using nuts and seeds in salsas and sauces since at least colonial times, and after you try it, you'll wish you'd known about this secret sooner. Mixing nut butter into salsa instantly elevates it by adding a creamy texture and a nutty depth of flavor, giving the perfect balance for its heat.

How to upgrade store-bought salsa with nut butter

Peanut butter is excellent with salsa — although almonds and cashews also work well. Stick with unsalted and unsweetened peanut butter for enhanced flavor — the salsa you use will likely already have salt added. Opt for smooth nut butter for a buttery finish or a chunky variety for maximum crunch. 

This works well with all kinds of salsa, but the easiest option is a saucy variety. Nut butter is easier to blend into salsa that has a liquid consistency, and you can simply mix it in with a spoon. On the other hand, chunky salsa will benefit from this hack too. Try it in a jar of Texas cowboy caviar (bean and corn salsa), or in a container of pico de gallo (aka salsa fresca) from your market's fresh food deli counter. 

It may be a little tricky to mix nut butter into pico de gallo, but there are a few ways to deal with it. The first is to thin out the nut butter to better integrate it with the chopped tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. The best way to thin peanut butter, for example, is to heat it. This won't change its flavor but will give it a pourable consistency that's easier to blend in. Or you can whiz everything together in a blender or food processor until the nut butter's oils have emulsified. It won't technically be a pico de gallo any longer, but it'll be smooth and delicious. 

The easy way to make cheater nutty salsa

Get inspired by traditional salsas then make them your own starting with store-bought jars of salsa and nut butter. Mole is the unofficial national dish of Mexico, with many different recipes for the sauce, but the ingredients most have in common are chilis, chocolate, and nuts. Mole poblano is made with peanuts, and mole almendrado is made with almonds. 

Another popular condiment is salsa macha — unlike tomatoey salsa, it's oil-based, similar to Chinese chili crisp, and is made with caramelized garlic, chili, and nuts and seeds such as peanuts, sesame, sunflower seeds, or pepitas. Try pan-frying thinly sliced garlic and crushed peanuts in olive oil and adding it to a jar of salsa for a not quite authentic, but nonetheless tasty, take. 

Ecuador has its own peanut sauce known as salsa de mani, usually served with llapingachos (potato patties). The sauce is made from roasted peanuts or peanut butter, evaporated milk, achiote (annatto), spring onions, and cilantro.  

Salsa de cacahuate is a spicy and smokey peanut sauce from Chiapas in the south of Mexico (both cacahuate and mani are Spanish words for peanut). When cooked from scratch, it's made with roasted peanuts, toasted guajillo and arbol chilis, garlic, onions, a touch of zesty apple cider vinegar, and dried herbs such as oregano and thyme, all blended into a creamy dip. Look for a store-bought salsa made with arbol chilis that you can then add peanut butter to for a quicky semi-homemade version.