You can find pre-made Picante sauce and pre-made salsa in the Mexican aisle of your local grocery store. Mild and hot versions of each are available and can serve similar purposes, but how different are these two ingredients? When should you use one and when should you use the other? These questions and more will all be answered in our PepperScale Showdown: Picante sauce vs. salsa.
How does Picante sauce differ from salsa?
Picante sauce and salsa differ with regard to their origins. Picante sauce is a product of the Pace corporation, which means that its history is relatively easy to trace. The first version of Picante sauce was made by the company’s owner David Pace in the 1940s. The word Picante is Spanish for flavorful. In the context of Picante sauce, it indicates that the sauce is spicy.
Note that Picante sauce is different from salsa Picante, which is Spanish for “hot sauce”. The word “salsa” is Spanish for sauce but it goes far back well before any Spaniards landed in the New World. Its origins lie in with the Aztec and Incan people who cultivated tomatoes and hot peppers and made the earliest incarnations of what we now call salsa.
Picante sauce is really just a jarred, cooked subset of modern salsa. Whereas salsa encompasses a variety of different preparations — both cooked and uncooked — including Picante sauce, Picante sauce just refers to the one product invented by David Pace.
Picante sauce and salsa can have different consistencies. Picante sauce is typically more liquid than solid. Some salsas have relatively little moisture while others are very moist. Pico de gallo is a type of salsa that may not have much moisture at all. In comparison, most Picante sauce has a thick but pourable consistency akin to a red sauce.
Can you use Picante sauce in place of salsa and vice versa?
Generally speaking, Picante sauce is meant to serve the same purpose as a salsa roja or other wet salsa: mainly as a dip but with a little more heat. Picante sauce is a great option if you want a spicy alternative to a mild salsa. Similarly, any type of hot salsa can work as a Picante sauce substitute if heat is your priority. Picante sauce also works as a stand-in if you want something with a wet, pureed consistency rather than pico de gallo with its chopped ingredients.
Use a salsa like pico de gallo in place of Picante sauce if you need something that has crisp, uncooked ingredients. While a pico de gallo can be spicy, you can make it with bell peppers or banana peppers to negate the heat entirely and provide a mild, fresh Picante sauce substitute. Use a mild salsa roja or salsa ranchero to replace Picante sauce to get a condiment or dip with a similar texture but without the heat.
When should you use picante sauce and when should you use salsa?
Picante sauce is great as a dip but you can also use it as a table condiment for tacos, burritos and other foods. Use mild salsas to avoid the heat that Picante sauce brings. Use pico de gallo and similar preparations to bring flavor and color to your tacos and as a starting point for Spanish rice and other dishes.