Best Cheap Salsa
Salsa and chips -- the dynamic duo of snack foods. Whether you're watching sports, enjoying family movie night, or stocking up to binge a new season of a favorite show, this simple combo is the hero of the hungry. To find the best cheap salsa to pair with tortilla chips, we organized a panel of eight tasters for a blind test. Our volunteer panelists sampled 11 low-price name-brand and store-brand salsas purchased at Safeway, Walmart, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. While budget-priced salsa may lag high-end artisanal products in terms of nuance and ingredients, the best cheap salsa has near-universal appeal.
Our Top Pick
Safeway Signature Select Chunky Classic Medium Salsa Review
Of all the budget-conscious salsas in our blind taste test, Safeway's Signature Select Chunky Classic Medium Salsa ($2.99 for 24 ounces) achieved the best balance. It had a smooth consistency with discernable chunks of onion, green pepper, and tomato that were neither too small nor too large. Some lower-rated salsas were overly thick and marinara-like, but this one was liquidy without being watery and clung nicely to chips.
When it came to flavor, testers said they could taste undertones of onion and garlic. A few pointed out this salsa's sweetness and others said it had a vinegar-like "bitterness," but at the end of the day, most were pleased and gave it high scores. The lowest ratings that the medium salsa received were from tasters looking for more intense heat.
As with many of the money-saving store brands we evaluate, it's hard to find any expert or user reviews online for this product. It's a house brand available only at Safeway stores, so users reviews on Amazon and big-box store sites are nonexistent. Private labels like these are often skipped in favor of name brands when experts weigh in, further limiting comparative feedback.
Even though our own taste test results are all we have to go on, we feel confident recommending this salsa as a top pick, especially at a price of 12 cents an ounce. It wasn't quite the cheapest salsa we tested (that honor went to Walmart's Great Value Restaurant-Style Medium Salsa), but it fell at the low end of the cost spectrum. From everyday entertaining to Taco Tuesdays, Safeway's Signature Select Chunky Classic Medium Salsa should hit the mark without a hit to the wallet.
Tostitos Chunky Medium Salsa Review
Tostitos Chunky Medium Salsa ($3 for 15.5 ounces) came in slightly behind Safeway's Signature Select Chunky Classic Medium Salsa in our taste test results. Panelists said it had "nice spice" and "good texture." Like our winner, this salsa profited by offering up nice-size bits of vegetables.
If this product has a weakness, it's the ever-so-slight runniness of the salsa and a subtlety of flavor that some tasters wished was a little less subtle. On the other hand, sensitive palates may like the fact that the Tostitos-brand salsa is on the mild side of medium.
In a taste test conducted by Thrillist, Tostitos Chunky Salsa tied for third out of 10 brand-name and boutique jarred salsas. Like our panelists, the Thrillist tasters commended the brand for a decent blend of spice and acidity.
We also found a smattering of online feedback to back up the experiences of our panelists. Customers posting reviews on the Walmart website were similarly struck by the mellowness of the spice, and yet the salsa has earned an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars from 15 user reviews. Amazon customers -- admittedly only four of them -- give it 5 out of 5 stars. One advocates using it in recipes as a substitute for tomatoes.
Tostitos Chunky Salsa isn't perfect, but it's a sufficiently impressive addition to the end of a chip. It was slightly spendier than our other top pick, at 19 cents per ounce, but still a good value and it's available at almost any supermarket, convenience store, or corner bodega.
Walmart Great Value Restaurant-Style Medium Salsa Review
Walmart's Great Value Restaurant-Style Medium Salsa ($2 for a 24-ounce jar) has many pleasing attributes, including the fact that it is indeed a great value. It stands out from the crowd of bottled salsas at only 8 cents an ounce.
Of course, an appealing price alone wasn't enough to put this salsa on our shortlist. It took a consensus from our tasting panel -- who enjoyed the flavors of this "all-purpose salsa" with "good spice" -- to secure Great Value Restaurant-Style Medium Salsa a spot as one of our good cheap picks. Panelists warmed to its pungent aroma and tang of cumin and cilantro. With an over-fine tomato and veggie dice, the salsa bordered on "mushy" and hovered dangerously close to a "marinara sauce" consistency, but it was saved by virtue of its flavor profile.
On the Walmart website, reviewers praise Great Value Restaurant-Style Medium Salsa for packing zing and hearty tomato taste. It's rated an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars with a total of 15 reviews. Several consumers seem to prefer the crushed-tomato thickness of the Walmart-brand salsa to a chunkier makeup, claiming it spreads nicely and better coats chips. Consumers who want to take things up a notch can always boost the spice level with hot sauce or cayenne, as at least one reviewer recommends.
Trader Joe's Chunky Salsa Review
Trader Joe's proprietary foodstuffs are notoriously hit or miss. When they're on target, enthusiastic consumers can't get enough and stand in line to stock up. When they miss, they sometimes do so spectacularly. Knowing this, we weren't sure what to expect when we dished up Trader Joe's Chunky Salsa ($1.99 for a 16-ounce jar) and passed out the tortilla chips.
As it turns out, this one was more a hit than a miss. The strength of this salsa, labeled Trader Jose's, is its savory taste. Bright with tomato acidity and spicy but not too hot, it extracts maximum impact from jalapeños, coriander, paprika, and onions, among other ingredients. Panelists particularly noted its "chili powder flavor."
The texture is where Trader Joe's Chunky Salsa unravels a bit. It has the consistency of a well-blended tomato purée, and although it has substance, it's a little more watered-down than our tasters preferred. The homogenous pulpiness of this salsa gives it what one panelist called a "funky mouth feel." Although our reviewers found room for improvement in the texture, they still ranked this salsa fairly high on the list.
Online reviews are almost nil, but the brand loyalists behind the niche blog What's Good at Trader Joe's profiled this salsa in a post a few years back. While consistency bumped the salsa from great to good in the minds of our tasters, it had no such effect on this review. The salsa claimed 9.5 out of 10 points for having good flavor with a little "kick."
Trader Joe's Chunky Salsa is on the cheaper end of the price range, at 12 cents an ounce, solidifying its status as a good cheap salsa.
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