What Is the Difference Between Salsa & Picante Sauce?

What Is the Difference Between Salsa & Picante Sauce? (Image: Elizabeth Fernandez/Moment/GettyImages)

Chips and salsa are a quick and easy snack, enjoyed at home and at many Mexican eateries. While salsa is Spanish for "sauce," the common usage for the word "salsa" is generally a type of dip, usually enjoyed with tortilla chips.

Salsa may be made with fresh ingredients or cooked into a smoother sauce. It might be mild, medium, hot or molten-lava level in its heat intensity. Picante sauce is a form of salsa. It's usually spicy, ranging from extra mild to hot, and blended to a smoother consistency than the average salsa.

The Origins of Picante Sauce

While salsas have existed in the Americas before the Spanish arrived, the modern version of picante sauce is claimed by Pace Foods. According to the company, the founder David Pace developed the tasty mixture of jalapeños, onions and tomatoes that became the company's signature salsa in 1947. Pace used two specific varieties of jalapeño chilies, one hot and one mild, to produce the distinctive flavors of his salsa.

Homemade Picante Sauce

In Spanish, you use the word "picante," meaning "hot or spicy" when referring to flavoring or culinary uses. You can easily make your own picante sauce at home for chips or to use in recipes.

A few dried chilies simmered until soft and then chopped or processed and mixed with seeded and chopped fresh serrano or jalapeño chilies, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, cilantro and a dash of vinegar make the base of most picante sauce recipes. Process or blend the ingredients and then bring it to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Cool and serve it immediately or store it in the refrigerator.

Other Types of Salsa

Salsas aren't limited to the relatively smooth consistency of picante sauce. Salsas are often chunky combinations of a variety of ingredients and may not include tomatoes at all. Fruit salsas may include mangoes, peaches, pineapple and other fruits instead of tomatoes or tomatillos.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo is also known as salsa Mexicana and salsa picada. The basic ingredients are fresh chopped tomatoes, jalapeños, onion and cilantro. Some cooks add a splash of lime juice for additional flavor.

The tomatoes should be meaty, like Romas, to keep the salsa on the dry side. Simply chop, mix and serve. You can serve pico de gallo with tortilla chips, use it in tacos or pour it over eggs or steaks.

Black Bean Salsa

Black bean salsa is another chunky sauce enjoyed with tortilla chips or corn chips or as a condiment. Mix equal parts canned or cooked black beans, frozen corn and chopped tomatoes with chopped onions, jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. The tomatoes should be chopped to about the same size as the beans.

Add a little lime juice, oil and salt. Adventurous cooks may also add chopped avocado, pineapple, mango or even a little adobo sauce for flavor.

Salsa Verde

Salsas aren't limited to tomato-based sauces. Green (verde) salsas are made with tomatillos, chilies, onions, cilantro, a little lime juice and a dash of salt. The tomatillos and chilies may be fire roasted first and then peeled and seeded to add a smoky flavor to the salsa. You can keep it mild with Anaheim chilies or heat it up with jalapeño, serrano or habanero chilies.

Blend or pulse the ingredients in a food processor to make a smooth green salsa, suitable for chips or enchiladas or as a condiment. While you can serve it immediately, a night in the refrigerator helps the flavors meld together.

Serve it With Salsa

Whether you prefer picante sauce or any other type of salsa, the spicy and sweet, mild, medium or hot flavor enhances snacks and meals. Pour salsa over your scrambled eggs or add pico de gallo inside or on top of your cheese omelet. Bake picante chicken or broil a steak and smother it with your favorite picante-style or green sauce, or you can serve the salsa on the side.

A stack of cheese quesadillas cut into quarters and served warm with your choice of salsa, picante sauce or salsa verde make tasty appetizers or snacks. Salsa goes with nearly everything, including vanilla ice cream.

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