Hot Sauce vs. Salsa: Are You Sure You Know the Difference?

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Tony Maples Photography


Is there a difference between hot sauce and salsa? It’s a proverbial question that’s sure to have come up in conversation in our great state of Texas a time or two, and many inquiring minds would like to know. One thing is for sure, some of the best hot sauces and salsa recipes have come from our great state of Texas. There are even festivals dedicated to crowning the champions of those tantalizing flavors used to tempt the taste buds such as the annual Texas Hot Sauce Festival scheduled for September 2019 in Houston, Texas.

According to Wikipedia, “The word salsa entered the English language from the Spanish salsa (‘sauce’), which itself derives from the Latin salsus (salted)… ” It’s a “…typical Mexican cuisine traditionally produced using the mortar and pestle-like molcajete, although blenders are now more commonly used.” Ranging anywhere from sweet to mild to raging hot, salsa is the go-to-choice for those endless baskets of chips we all enjoy. Serve it up fresh like Pico de Gallo or take your pick of the endless variety of homemade, canned, jarred, green, red and even orange ones, you are sure to find the one that suits your taste the best. Whether you like a chunky texture or a smoother and thin combination the ingredients are all there waiting to tantalize your palate. The YouTube video below is just one example of a quick and easy recipe for salsa.

Video: YouTube/Skinnytaste

But the question persists, is there is a difference between hot sauce and salsa? The answer any self-respecting Texan will answer is, YES! While sitting in a restaurant this Texas Hill Country writer, like many, has been asked if I would like chips and salsa as I wait for my order. While enjoying a delicious plate of enchiladas, I’ve also been asked if I would like some hot sauce to go with that dish. Many restaurants acknowledge the difference between the two, but if you go outside our great state to where folks aren’t necessarily acquainted with either, they may not be as apt to argue on the difference between them. The consistency of hot sauce is thinner than that of salsa. Furthermore, hot sauce is poured on top of dishes, whereas salsa is primarily used for dipping.

The list is endless on the variety of salsa options to be enjoyed: Tomatillo Salsa, Mexican Salsa Verde, Avocado Salsa, Habanero Pineapple Mango Salsa, Salsa Roja, and so many more. The list of hot sauce varieties to choose from doesn’t lag far behind with choices such as Cholula, Valentina, Tapatío, Tabasco Sauce, and the Louisiana-style hot sauce just to name a few familiar options you’ve most likely added to some of your favorite dishes like gumbo. Now, another question to ponder: what is true salsa? Remember the commercial with the cowboy stating where the other fellow got his salsa? When the reply was “New York City,”  the gasp heard around the world forever engrained in viewers’ minds that the best salsa is Pace Picante Salsa. Well, some would argue salsa from a jar such as Pace Picante isn’t true salsa. Since we don’t all have the expertise to create our own concoction of award-winning salsa, sometimes a trip to the store for a jar will work in a pinch for those Sunday football parties.

So if you prefer hot sauce as your condiment of choice to enhance the flavor of your dishes, you’re most likely going to order the salsa to go with those chips first because there’s no confusing the two, right? With one of the biggest games just around the corner, it’s important to know the difference, since salsa will probably be the number one dish being served up with those chips at many tables around the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fresh, homemade bowl ready for your guests to devour as you cheer on your favorite team? Share your favorite recipe with us.