#035–What’s the Difference Between “Salsa” and “Picante Sauce”?

I thought it was straightforward, then three pages of Google searches later, there seems to be several possibilities (and some repeating answers). This question came to me when I was making my egg and potato tacos for lunch with–you guessed it–salsa to dip ’em in (a locally made “thick and chunky medium” to be more precise).

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life. Our so-called “state snack” is tortilla chips and salsa, which makes sense. You can’t throw a rock in a town without hitting either a church or a good family owned Tex-Mex restaurant. It’s a party staple and sleep-over go-to.

It’s everywhere.

But is it really salsa we’re enjoying so much?

I’ve found a couple of things that make me wonder what the real difference is between “salsa” and “picante sauce.” Apparently the Pace company was the first to coin the term picante sauce when they started in the late 1940s. Picante, supposedly, was a sauce of major heat as compared to salsa.

So, picante sauce is supposed to be hotter than salsa, according to that tradition.

But look at the market shelves: you have several companies and several varieties of both salsa and picante sauce…and they all have different heat settings. Because I still want a stomach lining, I had to abandon my “hot” salsa and go with “mild” or “medium” (depending on the manufacturer, some don’t have “medium” available, and even then I have to be careful).

So, I guess picante’s evolved past a designation of heat.

Today, the most common description of what makes salsa and picante different is texture. Picante is supposedly thinner, blended or pureed to have an even flavor and works as a good ingredient in dishes. I can agree with that–great staple in my mexi-bean soups. Salsa is thicker and has more bits of noticeable chiles and tomatoes and such in it.

But wait–

Salsa ALSO comes in many different textures and thicknesses. I just used my “thick and chunky” mild salsa bottle for my lunch. Regular salsa apparently isn’t so chunky, but still has noticeable lumps of what the items are in it. And when you go to a restaurant and ask for chips and salsa, rarely have I seen a salsa that’s very thick and lumpy at all.

It’s almost soupy, as if it’s been pureed… Like it was actually picante sauce they put in the bowl!

Oh boy.

And to top it off, I’ve had some picante sauces that once you get them good and cold in the fridge, pull them out and put ’em in a bowl, they can be pretty thick, too… thicker than some salsas.

I suppose down here “salsa” can mean damn near anything in the spectrum of texture (except for pico de gallo, which has its own special niche). It’s like when someone here in Texas says “I’m getting a Coke.” That could mean Dr. Pepper or anything that is dark, carbonated, and has caffeine in it.

I guess it comes down to regional particularities and semantics at this point. I just find it funny in a way.

And now I’m jonesing for more tomato-ey goodness and going to get my fresh bottle of mild picante sauce/salsa, triscuit crackers, and a spoon.


Ooh… too bad my stomach would kill me if I tried it all.


By the way, probably the best thing I’ve ever put on an egg and potato breakfast taco was essentially a “salsa” made of pureed fresh jalapenos with the guts trimmed out. Tasted fresh, smelled it, and it kicked the taste buds something good with its bit of heat…as long as you didn’t overdo it. A little went a long way. I need to find out how many makes how big a batch for next time…hmm… 

9 thoughts on “#035–What’s the Difference Between “Salsa” and “Picante Sauce”?

  1. Phil Phillips says:

    I am a Texan, who has lived in true Tex-Mex territory of Southwest (south of San Antonio-Six Shooter Junction) Texas and find the two trems confusing. I have roots in the Piney Woods, too. I find that the farther north, west and east if San Antonio true Tex-Mex salsa declines (especially Austin).


  2. Scottie says:

    Hello THECHATTYINTROVERT. I love potato chips and salsa or picante sauce , but I find that most brands have a lot of onion in them. Onions and I have a disagreement going back decades and the feud doesn’t look to stop any time soon. I am not familiar with all the different types and such. I was wondering if you could recommend something for me to try. Hugs


    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Hey howdy there. About the onions thing, dunno if I could help you out any. I’m not faithful to any particular brand or style, really, because it depends partially on my taste or what’s available. And onion seems to be a normal part of the recipe. But honestly, if you like heat, I had a classmate make some salsa by pureeing tomatoes, serrano peppers, a little cilantro, and that was about it. Smooth with a bit of heat (of course, I bet he didn’t use very much serrano–whew! I used to love cooking with those, but not the prepwork. My fingers–even through gloves–would be burning all damned day if I got careless.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ellen Hawley says:

    Just to add a bit of confusion: When I moved to Britain, I brought my American idea of what salsa should be–something involving tomatoes, chiles, and at least an effort at a Mexican attitude toward food. Here it’s anything sauce-like that isn’t British. So you’ll find recipes for mango salsa in the papers. Or anything-else salsa. True, salsa means sauce, but to me it also means–and, really, only means–salsa.

    Liked by 1 person

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