Taste Test: top 6 salsas for summer.

Taste Test: top 6 salsas for summer.

Making salsa at home is simple, and you can make it just as you like it: red or green, hot or mild, lots of or little cilantro, with a little fruit thrown in or simple tomato, smooth or extra-chunky… But there are some great jarred salsas on your supermarket shelves, handy to have in your refrigerator for a quick appetizer when unexpected guests knock at your door, to put on your morning eggs or to top tacos at dinner.

Most of you have a jar (or three…) of salsa in your refrigerator; it's been several years since salsa sales (in dollars) surpassed ketchup. And since you can find just about anything in jarred salsas these days, odds are you'll find a combination you really like. To put our test on even ground, we limited the field to plain, mild tomato salsa. Even that narrow classification left us testing more than 40 salsas to find our top 6.

Then we summoned our latest tasting panel, a group of six salsa fanatics: Robert, Robin and Ainaka, who usually go for sweeter fruit salsas; Teresa, who usually adds interest to purchased salsa with avocados or more spice; Victor, a spicy-salsa lover; and Meghan, who loves any and all salsas. Here's what they had to say about their top three picks.

Desert Pepper Trading Company Salsa Divino

You may be more familiar with Desert Pepper Trading Company's funkier salsa and dip concoctions, but their mild Salsa Divino took top honors from our tasting panel. Robert, who claimed this as his top pick, enjoyed its "smoky, herby, well-balanced flavor." Teresa said, "It's spicy and I like it!" Victor liked the fact that he could taste the vegetables and noted it would be good warm. Robin thought it had a strong, spicy flavor and nice texture.

Pace Chunky Salsa Mild

Pace has been bottling salsas for over 50 years, plowing through 25 million pounds of jalapeños annually to make their salsas and sauces. Ainaka's favorite of the bunch, she praised its "bright color and natural flavor." Meghan declared it was a great choice, ranking it second overall. But Robin proclaimed it had an "overpowering tomato paste flavor," while Teresa thought it had an unpleasant, tangy aftertaste.

Wild Oats Mild

Tasters also liked the natural-foods chain Wild Oats Markets's own brand of salsa. Meghan exclaimed, "I just loved it-it's full of flavor and has great texture." While Robert thought the sweetness and appearance were good, he said, "The texture wasn't great." Victor liked the look of it, too, but had one word for the flavor: "Boring." Ainaka was partial to the flavor, but she found its dark appearance unappealing.

Other salsas EW liked

* Drew's Organic Mild

* Herdez Salsa Casera Mild

* Old El Paso Thick and Chunky Wild for Mild

Our Panel

1. Meghan Wyatt: Mother, dressage enthusiast

2. Robert Fuller: Chef-restaurateur

3. Teresa Pete: Mother, runner

4. Victor Morrison: Writer,telemark ski instructor

5. Ainaka Luna: Mother, dancer

6. Robin Kowalski: Mother, runner

June/July 2006