DIY salsa - to make or to buy?

Is it always worth making your favourites from scratch? Our DIY series puts shop-bought and homemade to the test - this time, salsa...

Salsa with chips on plate

Generic tomato salsa belies the fact that the word itself - meaning simply 'sauce' in Spanish - is an umbrella term for a whole world of hot sauce. It covers classic red sauce with coriander, chilli-packed 'mole', 'salsa verde' green sauce and much further beyond - a salsa can even be sweet. For the purposes of comparison, I made a Mexican-style tomato salsa to test whether it beats those pulled from the chiller cabinet.

The cost:

Salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips
Cost of shop-bought salsa:
Supermarket brand chunky tomato salsa dip, 200g- £0.95

Cost of ingredients for homemade:
Around £3.00 for approximately 400g salsa (enough to serve 6 as a side dish)

The recipe I used: Smoky chipotle pepper salsa

I already had some of the ingredients in my storecupboard - chipotle paste comes in handy for lots of Latin American dishes - but if you don't want to splash out on such a niche ingredient, you could omit the paste or use a blend of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika instead.

The making:

Despite the uniform little chunks of tomato so often dotted in salsas, thankfully this recipe involved minimal chopping. The peppers are halved and grilled until charred, the garlic crushed, tomatoes halved and the whole lot thrown into a food processor. If you don't own one, the recipe would take quite a lot longer and the ingredients wouldn't amalgamate as well.


Sweetcorn salsa in bowl
Canned pulses and vegetables are a really good way to pad out a salsa and don't require any preparation, save for a swift rinse. Sweetcorn works well, as do earthy beans like pinto, borlotti or black beans.

The taste:

The homemade salsa had far less liquid than the shop-bought version, so the texture had more bite and body. The chipotle gave it a great smoky spice, which you could adapt according to taste. I'm a huge fan of coriander, so that along with the red onion was the perfect thing to weave through to finish the salsa off- it tasted fresh and piquant as a result. The shop-bought version mainly tasted of tomatoes, and would be better if you wanted a sauce that was a background note.

Since this salsa is fresh and doesn't contain any vinegar or other preservatives, you need to eat it all in one go, or at least within a few days. This simpler version by Mary Cadogan can be frozen, so you'll have enough for another evening.

The verdict:

Corn and black bean salsa in bowl with sweet potato
Supermarket salsa made en masse wins on the price front, and it's great for throwing together some quick chips and dips, or making a bowl of nachos. But homemade allows for added dimensions and my favourite thing about it was the chunky crunchy texture, which again can be adapted according to tastes. It was so delicious, I had it as a main meal stirred into cooked Puy lentils, you could do the same with rice or quinoa. I'd definitely try to make my own in future, and experiment with other herbs, spices and vegetables.

Do you prefer to make your own salsa? What's your favourite version? Let us know below:

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