picante vs salsa

Picante vs Salsa – What Are The Differences?

Have you ever been faced with the question of whether you want Picante sauce or salsa with your meal? These two foods are not the same, and ordering one or the other can alter your dish. Take a look here at what these two foods are and how they differ. 

Let’s take a closer look at two of your favorite foods in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines! 

What Is Picante Sauce?

Picante means spicy in Spanish, which means that this sauce is usually on the spicy side compared to other sauces. 

Unlike salsa, Picante sauce is much lighter and liquid than other Mexican condiments. Picante sauce is usually made with just tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno, salt, and pepper. 

The trick to this sauce is that everything is placed in a food processor or blender until the consistency is very smooth and liquidy. 

Commercial Picante sauce appears only red and liquid, and there are no chunks or visible ingredients in it. The level of hotness may vary, though, depending on how much jalapeno goes in it. 

You can find Picante sauce in Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, either served with tortilla chips as an appetizer or to accompany another dish. It is important to remember that Picante sauce contains cooked ingredients, so the texture and flavors may be different. 

You can make Picante sauce at home or buy it in a grocery store, but be careful not to confuse it with hot sauce or salsa. 

Nutrition Facts

One serving size (30 g) of Picante sauce has the following nutritional content (*): 

  • 9.9 calories
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 2 g carbohydrate
  • 0.99 g fiber 
  • 0.999 g sugar
  • 230 mg sodium 

Is Picante Sauce Good For You?

As with other tomato products, the quality depends on the rest of the ingredients and the production process. Because this sauce requires blending or processing cooked ingredients, it also loses the nutritional content found in the original food. Overall, Picante sauce is not bad for you when consumed in moderation.

The most significant nutrient found in Picante sauce is sodium. One serving size contains around 10% of your daily value for this micronutrient. 

Sodium is not something you should consume in excess as it can lead to high blood pressure, kidney damage, and fluid retention, among others.  

Some brands of Picante sauce also contain added sugars to preserve the flavor better. While the content is not too high, if you consume a lot of this sauce, you may be eating an unhealthy amount of sugar. By making your sauce at home,  you can reduce the amount of sugar. 

The carbohydrate and fiber content is not significant either, as most of it is lost when the ingredients are blended down. You can preserve the fiber on tomatoes and onions by making your sauce at home and avoiding processing these two vegetables too much. 

A homemade version may also contain more of the micronutrients since you are preserving things, like the skin of the vegetable, more. 

Even though Picante salsa may not be a significant source of nutrients, there may still be some antioxidants from the tomatoes. 

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce the risk of inflammation and oxidative damage. The lycopene content increases when tomatoes are cooked but can be lost if there is more processing. 

If you want to avoid added preservatives, the best option is to make your homemade Picante salsa. However, this takes time and effort, so it may not always be an option for everyone. You can consume commercial Picante sauce brands, but be sure to check for the ingredient list. 

What Is Salsa?

Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce, so it can be very confusing when you think of Picante sauce and salsa. However, the word salsa is used to describe a Mexican and Mexican-inspired condiment made with raw and/or cooked ingredients. 

Salsa contains tomatillos or red tomatoes and can be different consistencies. 

You can find different types of salsa, including smooth, chunky, mild, spicy, and extra hot. 

Commercial salsa is sold refrigerated or not, depending on the ingredients used and whether they are fresh or cooked. Salsa is often consumed with tortilla chips as an appetizer or as a topping for dishes like tacos. 

Salsa is a little different too because it can contain a variety of ingredients, including corn, bell peppers, beans, and more. The nutrient content of salsa also depends on the ingredients that it contains. When raw, salsa will only be safe to eat for a few days and needs to be refrigerated  

Nutrition Facts

One serving size (28 g) of salsa has the following nutritional content (*): 

  • 19.9 calories
  • 2 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 3 g carbohydrate
  • 1.01 g fiber 
  • 2 g sugar 
  • 135 mg sodium 
  • 0.36 mg iron 
  • 8.99 mg vitamin C 
  • 500 IU vitamin A 

Is Salsa Good For You?

When it comes to nutrient content, salsa is more nutritious than Picante sauce. The quality of the nutrients, though, depends on whether the sauce is fresh or processed. For best results, you should look for fresh or homemade salsa. 

Unlike Picante sauce, salsa contains less sodium but the same amount of sugar, carbohydrates, and fiber. Be careful with the sodium and sugar content because these can increase in commercial brands of salsa. You can also maintain lower levels by making your salsa at home. 

As with other tomato products, salsa contains vitamin C, vitamin A, and lycopene. These three nutrients are relevant because they act as antioxidants, which can help lower the risk for disease and inflammation in your body. The amount of lycopene may increase when tomatoes are cooked, but the vitamin C and vitamin A levels are lost, so it is best to consume them raw in salsa.

Salsa also contains a ton of water, thanks to tomatoes and lime juice, which is why it can be good for hydration and your skin. Since it is mostly water, it does not contain many calories either, so it can be a healthy food to have around. The level of water also varies depending on how many ingredients you add to your salsa.

Another important nutrient found in salsa made with raw ingredients is the antioxidant quercetin. This antioxidant is present in tomatoes and onions, but only raw not cooked. It is a powerful way to prevent damage, along with the other antioxidants in this food. 

For salsa to be healthy it should contain fresh ingredients or be low in sugar. Commercially available salsa may contain preservatives and sugar, so check the ingredient list. One serving size of salsa every once in a while will not harm. 

See more: How long does salsa last?

What Are The Key Differences Between Picante Sauce and Salsa?

The main way to tell Picante sauce and salsa apart is the consistency. Picante sauce is very smooth and much lighter in texture. Salsa tends to be chunky, especially if more than three ingredients are used at a time. 

A second difference between these two foods is the flavor. Picante sauce is usually a bit smoky, spicy, and slightly acidic. Salsa is fresher, more acidic, and might be pungent if it contains onions, it can also be mild or spicy.  

These two condiments are made with some of the same ingredients, but not all. Picante sauce contains cooked tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapenos, salt, and pepper. Salsa contains fresh tomatoes or tomatillos, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Some recipes of salsa may contain other ingredients such as corn, black beans, or mango.  

Finally, these two foods may be different in the way they are used. While Picante sauce is usually served only as an appetizer with tortilla chips, salsa is served as an appetizer, topping, or side dish. Salsa can also vary in flavor profile, so it can be used differently depending on this. 

Main DifferencesPicante SauceSalsa
Origin MexicoMexico
Aroma Sweet, aromatic, and slightly smoky Fresh, acidic, and pungent
ColorDark red to light brownVarious colors due to tomatoes, onions, and cilantro
Price Between $1.50-$4.50 Between $3.50-$10.50  
Taste Spicy, slightly sweet, and smokyAcidic, spicy, and pungent
How To CookCook the tomatoes until they are stewed, cook onions as well, place everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Chop the onions and tomatoes, mix with the rest of the ingredients, add a splash of lime, and top with chopped cilantro. 
Cook TimeCooking time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 5-10 minutes
Calories per 100 gram serving33 calories71 calories

Is Picante Sauce or Salsa Healthier?

At first glance, it may seem like Picante sauce is healthier because it contains slightly fewer calories. However, salsa contains more nutrients due to the ingredients used and how you prepare it. It is always best to go with salsa when able, though Picante sauce is relatively safe. 

As you may be aware, tomatoes are a healthy source of nutrients and antioxidants. The amount of processing in Picante sauce may reduce these, which is why fresh salsa is the superior choice. Commercial unrefrigerated salsa also tends to be processed and loses its nutrient content.  

Thanks to its vitamin C, vitamin A, lycopene, and quercetin, salsa is a nutritious food that helps your body fight off oxidative damage and prevents inflammation. Vitamins C and A are also essential nutrients, so eating salsa can help increase your daily value. Picante sauce does not contain any vitamins or minerals except for sodium. 

You should always check the ingredients list for any of your foods but do so especially with commercial Picante sauce or salsa. For the healthier option, go with fresh or homemade salsa. In moderation, Picante sauce should be fine too.


Never be caught off guard next time you are at your favorite Mexican joint! Now you know exactly how Picante sauce and salsa differ and can choose your favorite one. You could even try to make your own at home!

*Image by kleberpicui/depositphotos

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