Go to any Mexican, Tex-Mex or Mexican-American restaurant or grocery store aisle with Spanish food and you will see both picante and salsa as popular condiments to many dishes. But what sets them apart, in a nutshell, has to do with the texture and taste. Picante, meaning “spicy” in Spanish, has a smoother consistency, making it easy pour over dishes like tacos, while salsa is chunkier and more of a dip for nachos or eaten as a side dish. But what other differences are there between picante vs. salsa? Is one healthier than the other? Let’s explore and you decide!
What is Picante?
First you should know that in the United States, picante is a type of salsa. Ever heard of Pace Picante Sauce? Well according to Texas Hill Country, that’s where picante got it’s start from in 1947. A man by the name of David Pace was the first to hone Texas roots and coin the word “picante” to describe his delicious and savory salsa known as the “syrup of the Southwest” or Mexican picante sauce. His experimenting with various types of picante – using fresh ingredients like red peppers, onions and tomatoes – led to a tasty deal with the food company Campbell’s. They bought Pace in 1994 for a whopping 1.115 billion dollars!
You can find picante in the grocery aisles starting as low as $1.57 depending on where you live.
What is Salsa?
Salsa refers to a diverse range of sauces used as condiments for Mexican, Tex-Mex and Mexican-American dishes like tacos. They can come in a variety of flavors and levels of spicyness from mild to fiery hot. Salsas can come in both raw and cooked versions, and they are typically served at room temperature.
You can find salsa in the grocery aisles starting as low as $2.69 depending on where you live. Salsa can tend to be quite costly based on the gourmet style and flavors.
Picante vs. Salsa: Key Differences
Let’s first start with…
Taste and Texture:
Picante sauce is known for its smooth and thin consistency, think of hot sauce. It keeps its texture so there aren’t any chunky parts to the sauce like salsa. This is a great and very convenient condiment as you control the amount of spiciness you want to add to your dish. While the word picante means spicy as mentioned earlier, the sauces can vary in heat level. You can choose your level of spiciness based on the type of peppers you use. For example, there is jalapeño, serrano, habanero, or cayenne to name a few. Also adding vinegar gives it a tarter taste, whereas roasted tomatoes make for a smokey flavor.
On the flip side, salsa offers a wide range of textures, ranging from finely chopped to coarsely diced. It is typically chunkier and thicker than picante. That means you can visibly see the chopped or chunky ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. That’s what gives salsa its unique texture. There are also more variety of salsas than picante. For example, you can have fresh salsa, green salsa or even fruit salsa made up of delicious fruits such as mango, pineapple, or papaya! And salsa's texture can be customized to suit personal preferences, making it a versatile condiment.
Type and Consistency:
Picante sauce is like a smooth, spicy liquid. It's great for easily pouring or drizzling over your food. Whether you want to add some heat to your tacos, enchiladas, or grilled meats, picante sauce lets you do it easily.
Salsa, on the other hand, is thicker and chunkier. There are a wide range of salsas including black bean, pico de gallo and salsa verde, to name a few.
Picante vs. Salsa: Which is Healthier?
The short answer is it all depends. Why? Because there are some key things you need to keep in mind when it comes to deciding which is healthier. For example, if you buy store-bought picante or salsa, you need to be mindful of the sodium content. So make sure you read the labels. Too much sodium can wreak havoc on your body and cause problems with your blood pressure, kidneys and fluid retention.
And according to the Food and Drug Administration, the American diet consists of sodium that comes from over 70% of the packaged and prepared foods eaten! That’s alarming! Especially if your kitchen is full of canned, packaged or prepared foods! So moderation is the key to controlling your sodium intake.
A Note About Picante:
Picante involves the process of using heat with the ingredients, so it can lose some of its nutritional value more than salsa. Blending also causes the picante ingredients to lose their fiber content as well.
Freshly Made Picante or Salsa
On the other hand, freshly made picante and salsa pack more of a nutrient-dense punch! For example, it tastes fresher, better and the flavor is more enhanced. This is especially true when you use ripe, seasonal veggies. You can adjust the flavor and heat level to you and your family’s liking. And because you have control over your choice of ingredients, you can pick high-quality, even pesticide-free organic ingredients. , making your condiments more flavorful and nutritious.
Another plus is that you can customize homemade salsa and picante sauce. You can make them as spicy, tangy, or chunky as you want. Plus, they're healthier because they have fewer additives and less salt than store-bought ones.
So when you make either picante or salsa from scratch, you can control the texture, from smooth to chunky. This can also be a fun cooking project for the whole family. And it gives you the opportunity to tap into your creativity and explore new flavors and improve your cooking skills.
A Bonus to Fresh Picante and Salsa
By making your own picante or salsa you can support local farmers. They would appreciate it too! After all, choosing this option is not only good for the environment, but your taste buds too! Consider homemade picante or salsa to be a tastier and healthier choice!
How to Use:
Picante is a great sauce to add to your burritos, chicken, enchiladas, grilled meats or other Mexican inspired dishes. It’s base usually consists of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions and various spices with a touch of vinegar. It is blended until silky smooth. You can use it to mix with other ingredients to create marinades, dressings, or sauces, giving your dishes a spicy and flavorful kick.
On the other hand, salsa can but doesn’t always include tomatoes. For example, it can range from a variety of ingredients including tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and more! Or it can be more fruit based as mentioned earlier. Salsa works great as a dipping tortilla chips, topping for tacos or nachos, or complementing grilled meats and seafood. You can also spoon it generously onto dishes Mexican-inspired dishes. Salsa adds lots of flavor and texture to your food, making it a tasty partner for hearty meals. Even though the process to make it involves dicing or chopping, the results are quite tasty!
So there you have it! Picante is a spicier and smoother sauce while salsa comes in various, chunky textures and is made from ingredients like tomatoes and chili peppers. Salsa is typically considered healthier due to its use of fresh ingredients and lower calories. Both are versatile condiments used with a variety of dishes, but making them at home allows for customization, fresher flavors and gives you better control of the level of sodium. So what will you choose for dinner tonight? Will it be picante or salsa?