The 7 Best And 7 Worst Salsas You Can Buy At The Grocery Store

Salsa's been a thing in the United States since it started trending in the 1960's. But, despite decades in the business, some grocery store brands still don't seem to understand the assignment. (It's tomatoes, hot peppers, and spices. How hard can it be, people?) Wanna skip on the salsa jar roulette? Scoop up the good stuff with these top picks — taste-tested by us!

As a self proclaimed salsaficianado — sometimes called a salsammelier, or salsa steward, if you will — I've been dipping tortilla chips, topping burritos, and spilling all kinds of salsa on my shirt for decades. I'm also obsessed with hot pepper-eating contest documentaries, and am therefore unofficially certified in Scoville Heat Scale awareness. Moral of the story, I've got your back when it comes to the grocery store salsa aisle. You're on your own with the chips.

Surprisingly, there really are fire salsas on the shelves out there. Not surprisingly, there are also some total duds. Which is which when it comes to the best and worst of the bunch? Hold on to your jalapeños, these are the salsas to skip — and the ones you've gotta check out. (At the checkout. Little supermarket humor.)

14. BEST: Casa Sanchez Fresh Roasted Tomate & Chile Asado Medium Salsa

This didn't land on the best list just because there's a picture of "Pepper & Tomato Vegetable Grill Master Daniel" on the inside of the lid. Sweet, but no. It's because of the charred, roasty bits peppered throughout the Casa Sanchez Fresh Roasted Tomate & Chile Asado salsa recipe that leave a campfire kiss in the back of your mouth.

This extremely simple blend of tomatoes, peppers, salt, citric acid, and garlic is rare to find in a grocery store salsa. Maybe that's why it's best within a week of opening. But who needs a week? The peppers are hot, the tomatoes taste flame-grilled (that's what they mean by "asado," or grilled style), and the garlic guarantees you won't be kissing any vampires. It's perfect.

Dip chips into it, drench a wet burrito, go to town. And don't worry about the quick best-buy date. No way is this container ever gonna last that long.

13. WORST: Signature Select Taqueria Style Salsa Roja

Signature Select Taqueria Style Salsa Roja serves up big flavor in a little botella (Spanish for "bottle"). The term "taqueria" tells us this one will come out kicking and screaming, and should also pour perfectly smooth. Check and check.

There were high hopes going into this one, since it would definitely seem at home at any taco stand. But the first sniff was fully sauerkraut-y. And, to add to the confusion, this salsa roja is labeled "medium hot." Whatever blazing or not blazing territory that lands in, is up to you to decipher. For our purposes here, let's call it medium kraut juice.

It's nicely seasoned, with a kick that doesn't linger around after the party's over. But it falls in between the cracks without anything to really define it. It's almost a vinegar-based spicy salad dressing, versus a starring taco topper. Maybe it needs a little more personality in the pepper department.

12. BEST: Signature Select Taqueria Style Guacamole Salsa

Meet "sauerkraut" salsa's avocado cousin, Signature Select's Taqueria Style Guacamole Salsa. (Oh no. Again with the medium-hot. Pick one or the other. Please. Two out of three jalapeño peppers just tells us it's medium!)

Much thicker than the salsa roja variety, this smooth and creamy guacamole blend packs touch-n-go heat and a vegetal freshness that would be totally rad on a mulita (a toasty sort of street taco sandwich — like a mini quesadilla). Avocado paste marries flawlessly with onions, tomatillos, coriander, serrano peppers, and white vinegar. Perhaps the name guacamole salsa is a contradiction in itself, but you won't care about any of that after a little dollop of this stuff.

Maybe they were trying to appeal to a broad market, but a little cilantro would have made this one pop. Either way, I'm grabbing a bottle of guac salsa before I hit up my favorite taco cart — that just so happens to set up shop in a grocery store parking lot.

11. WORST: Signature Select Restaurant Style Fire-Roasted Tomato Medium Salsa

Beep, bop, blerp. This is the salsa a 1960s robot would make at a mid-century NASA space foods factory. It checks all the boxes on what salsa's supposed to be, and tastes like nothing you'd ever want to eat.

If you enjoy floral smushed tomatoes, you might dig this recipe. But despite marketing phrases like "restaurant style," "fire-roasted," and what appear to be flame-grilled tomatoes on the label, you'll be lost at sea looking for any real flavor. There's not even a clue as to what's creating the flowery flavors (no coriander seed here). Also, sugar is listed twice in the ingredients, while the nutrition label confirms less than 1 gram added sugars. Which is it, Signature Select?

It would be nice to suggest some kind of alternative use for this product. But it's making me too sad to come up with any ideas. Signature Select Restaurant Style Fire-Roasted Tomato Salsa is one you'll just want to pass by on the shelf. (OMG, it's looking at you. Don't make eye contact.)

10. BEST: Herdez Chipotle Salsa Cremosa

Well, Herdez, you had me at "cremosa" — aka, creamy. This one tastes like that special sauce that might appear on your favorite smashburger. Or be rebranded as "fry sauce." You'll want to dip all the foods in it, from taquitos to tostones. It's magic and it goes with everything.

Someone unrelated to this study observed that it tasted like "hot dog." (Yeah, and?) A deeper dive revealed that the flavors had hit like hot dog toppings — mustard, ketchup, mayo, sweet and tangy pickles, onions, and hot sauce — all blended into one. This unsolicited review was annoyingly spot on, and involved stealing my tortilla chips. While no hot dog muse was involved in the making of this recipe, the tomato paste, onions, chipotle peppers, cilantro, garlic, and seasonings all come together for a really tasty, smoky, creamy sauce deserving of any hot dog, or otherwise.

The flavor profile is supposed to be medium heat, but the mild crowd shouldn't be scared off by the label. Drizzle it over a green salad as dressing, sauce up a pulled pork sando, or dunk your least favorite veggie, and prepare to fall madly in love.

9. WORST: Pace The Original Picante Sauce Medium

Once the Texas-based salsa brand that slammed its competition for being made in an urban setting — the commercial went something like "This stuff's made in New York City!" with the response "NEW YORK CITY?!" — Pace is still truckin' along with their Original Picante Sauce. (So, also it's pronounced pih-KAHN-ee, according to the '90s ad).

Picante style describes a hot and spicy sauce, but the blend in this medium-heat bottle appears to feature fresh tasting vegetables with just the tiniest whisper of heat. (Read: mild.) Crushed tomatoes stand out the most, with jalapeños popping up here and there, plus the usual mix of onions, vinegar, and garlic for flavor. It almost feels as if Pace Picante was invented before we had mainstream salsa brands to choose from. And then they didn't want to disappoint their fans by stepping up their game (and giving the recipe a little zhuzh).

It's refreshing. It's salsa. If there aren't any other options, at least it's not made in New York City.

8. BEST: La Victoria Thick'n Chunky Medium Salsa

Something about this bottle gives off the vibe that we're about to taste authentic salsa from the motherland. Other than the abbreviated "Thick'n," La Victoria Thick'n Chunky Salsa just feels majestic. Like, hell yeah, let's get into those sun-ripened tomatoes from that 100-year-old farm.

This is a gentle medium-heat salsa that's thicker than your average shelf-stable brand. And thanks to the generous amount of tomatoes, tomato juice, and tomato purée, it doesn't taste like tomato water. It tastes like freakin' bold, beautiful tomatoes. Even the onions, jalapeños, and green chile peppers taste fresh. Garlic, vinegar, and paprika give these fresh salsa tomatoes some depth. A warm spiciness sticks around on your tongue, letting you savor the flavor without breaking out into the sweats.

Not like you'd have a problem figuring out what to do with this salsa, but we could definitely see it in a creamy queso dip, or as a topping for an enchilada-style baked potato. So what time is dinner again?

7. WORST: Herdez Medium Salsa Casera

Herdez, why you gotta do us wrong like this? We had such a good thing going with the chipotle cremosa. And now you're phoning it in with Herdez Medium Salsa Casera. Casera means homemade in Spanish. So, someone's abuelita needs to answer for this.

Love the fresh-tasting chunky tomatoes, onions, and chile peppers. But with a seriously minimal ingredients list, there seems to be something missing in between those headliners, and the sodium and preservatives. If you're looking for a jar of fun chopped tomatoes, this one checks that box. But as far as this recipe goes, it's probably a little too basic for most salsa lovers' tastes. (It's also definitely not a medium heat like the label claims — it's much more mildly seasoned. It also smells and tastes more like a loose tomato sauce.)

Thankfully, this jar is surrounded on the shelf by better options on all sides. Do yourself a favor and pick a different one from the "best" list.

6. BEST: Signature Select Chunky Mango-Lime Mild Salsa

You don't have to melt your face off to enjoy a tasty salsa. And Signature Select's Chunky Mango-Lime salsa is mild enough for even your sensitive taste bud buddies. It's also delightfully mango-y, loaded with actual fruit you can see and bite into.

This blend could have maybe used a touch more lime for a stronger citrus tang, but the recipe is wonderfully fresh and tomato-forward without skimping on the mango. Hold up, there are also unadvertised peaches in here. Fish out the peach and mango separately to see if you can spot the difference, but the all-around flavor of both plays brightly against the gentlest kick from the jalapeño.

A fruitier salsa like this is gangbusters on a fish dish like grilled swordfish, or even something like a charred grilled tandoori chicken. Also, hello, tortilla chips as a spoon and you're in business. This is one mango salsa that goes down way too easy. Good thing it comes in a 24 ounce jar.

5. WORST: Mateo's Gourmet Salsa Medium Cantina Style

Good job, Mateo's, looking like luxury and tasting like economy class. The flavors are all there, but you'll be on the hunt for extra salt. If you're not eating this with well-seasoned chips, enjoy a jar full of total bummer.

The thin consistency is on par with cantina or restaurant style salsa. But for the amount of sodium in this recipe, it's almost like it's punking us on flavor. There are even habanero peppers in here. And red wine vinegar. And cilantro. And garlic. And something called "spice" — whatever that is. Hello? Seasonings? Dónde estás?

For a second, I wondered if I sizzled my taste buds into oblivion on the other salsas, making the more low-key Mateo's read like slightly spicy, chunky, flavorless tomato water. But it appears that the brand blended everything into its salsa except for good taste. The label claims they're, "Not responsible for obsession." Well, no need to worry — nobody's charging them with that.

4. BEST: Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa

I have it on good authority that the Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa rivals some of the most treasured sweet corn salsas of Southern California. Specifically, the farmers market offerings in the fiercely local ag-centric city of Ojai, just east of Santa Barbara. ("Ag" stands for agriculture. It also stands for silver on the periodic table. A+.)

Nary a tomato will you find in this jar. Red bell peppers, chopped onions, and black pepper — plus coriander and mustard seeds — dot the happy corn kernel landscape. Jalapeño peppers and crushed red peppers bring the heat, and sugar mellows things out with a little sweetness. When you catch a flowery aroma as you crunch the mix between your teeth, look to those toasted coriander seeds for their unique floral flavor. The recipe is truly "corny" with a single jar packing nearly two ears of the stuff.

If you're the kind of person who isn't planning to eat all of this corn salsa straight out of the jar, we might mix a little into a grilled Mexican street corn salad. Or spice up a casual ground beef taco recipe. Move over every condiment ever, we'd even skip the ketchup in order to pile this up on a homemade hot dog

3. WORST: Newman's Own Medium Chunky Salsa

It's painful to dump on Ol Blue Eyes, but (actor Paul Newman's brand) Newman's Own Medium Chunky Salsa could use a little more rehearsal before the cameras start rolling. Well, too late. Aaaaaaand action.

Points for the fact that the brand donates 100% of their profits to children's charities. But perhaps they should donate some of their salsa, too. Maybe it's watery bell peppers that are screwing with the recipe, but even with tomatoes coming at you from three fronts (diced, juice, and paste), along with two kinds of peppers (jalapeño and chilis), there's not a strong flavor profile to speak of. (And garlic — like, does she even go here?)

It's one of the thicker brands on this list. And if you like your chili lime dip chips with a side of good deeds, Newman's Own just might be the ticket. But if salsa will be playing the lead character in your next recipe or during the game this weekend, go with one that's got a little more junk in the trunk (seasoning-wise, that is).

2. BEST: Trader Joe's Pepita Salsa

Blessedly, popping open this jar is nothing like inhaling the first whiffs of the inside of a fresh pumpkin. Instead, Trader Joe's Pepita Salsa (or, pumpkin seed salsa) smells tomato-y, well-seasoned, and just a little nutty. (Like Trader Joe's itself.)

This blend takes a classic fresh tomato salsa recipe and turns it on its head with dry roasted pepitas and some chipotle powder-driven heat. Chunky onions, tomatoes, and seeds create texture. The seasoning lands gently on your tongue, but lingers after closing time on your lips. It might be a little too zippy for anyone sensitive to that notorious jalapeño heat.

This salsa makes a whole lot of sense as the nutty firecracker in a healthy red quinoa bowl with avocado, or on top of all the breakfast scrambled eggs from migas to tomago. Of course, also running unopposed, is eating it with a spoon straight out of the jar, or going full tortilla chips on its butt.

1. WORST: Tostitos Hot Chunky Habanero Salsa

The only way Tostitos Hot Chunky Habanero Salsa should ever exist in your life is if you're wheeling your way through the supermarket, and the Tostitos end cap display suddenly succumbs to gravity, and avalanches into your shopping cart. Even then, remove the nonconsensual salsa immediately.

This recipe commits the unforgivable crime of being raging hot, while offering zero perceivable seasonings or flavors. With each tasting, all I can discern are hot tomato-like chunks as my mouth gets repeatedly punched in the face.

Tostitos taps habanero peppers for this numbing heat, which are significantly hotter than jalapeños. Roughly 140 times as hot, at least when you compare their respective Scoville Heat Units. The nutrition label lists less than 2% habanero content, but you don't need a lot to send this entire jar into the trash. If you're totally stuck with this one, throw it into a recipe where it will be overwhelmed by cheese or creamy dairy — like an enchilada dish, or the best mac and cheese recipe you can find. (Anybody got milk?)

Still hungry? If you wanna take a crack at crafting homemade salsa, check out this simple recipe for a perfectly charred tomato salsa you can make from the comfort of your own grill. (Better double the recipe. It's a crowd-pleaser!)