Picante vs Salsa: How Do These Two Sauces Differ?

Picante and salsa are two popular types of sauces that are often confused with one another. They’re both meant to add heat and flavor to your favorite foods, but they have many differences between them.

While very similar in flavor, you’ll find that the texture they add to your favorite dish will differ the most. 

Find out what’s different between these two favorite condiments below!

Picante and Salsa Sauce Overview

Picante is often used as an ingredient in other dishes or as a condiment for tacos and burritos.

Salsa is another type of sauce that typically contains chopped tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos along with cilantro leaves. Salsa can be served warm or cold depending on the recipe you use–and it may also contain lime juice for added flavor!

What is Picante?

Picante is a spicy sauce that’s used to add heat and flavor to foods. Picante actually means ‘spicy’ in Spanish. The derivative is a verb that means ‘to sting’. 

Now if you’re looking for it on the shelves of your favorite grocery store, you’re going to find it with the salsas (at least in the US). 

Picante was developed in the 1940s as a smooth sauce much like salsa. 

It’s made with tomatoes, onions, peppers (jalapeños), garlic, and spices like cumin and chili powder. Picante sauce can be served cold or hot–it just depends on if you want to give your food some extra kick!

Picante is often used as an ingredient in Mexican dishes like burritos or enchiladas; however, it also goes well with other cuisines such as Italian (think pizza) or American (think Buffalo wings).

Now don’t confuse this with Mexico’s salsa picante. This sauce translates to hot sauce. It’s not the same as American picante. This Mexican sauce is actually a very thin sauce made of red peppers, spices, salt, and vinegar. 

What is Salsa?

Salsa translates from Spanish as ‘sauce’. Most cultures use it as a sauce or dip, especially those with Latin American and Mediterranean origins. The term salsa can refer to an entire food category rather than a single dish or sauce. 

Current tradition has the recipe and idea for salsa originating in older Latin American cultures like the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas who were known for their peppers. It started with salsa roja a traditional blend of tomatoes and chilis.

Salsa is a traditional Mexican sauce made from fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The vegetables are roughly chopped and combined with various spices and spice levels depending on the hot peppers involved. Traditionally, you’ll find salsa in forms from mild to hot.

It’s usually served as an accompaniment to Mexican dishes like tacos, nachos, and enchiladas. Salsa can also be used as a dip or topping for these dishes. Many find salsa similar to chutney in texture and find them interchangeable. Some even consider salsa to be the Mexican version of chutney. 

What’s the Difference Between Salsa and Picante Sauce?

While made with very similar ingredients, these two sauces aren’t the same thing. Their distinct sauces with different uses and vastly different textures. 

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Salsa may be used as a dip, but it’s more commonly served as an accompaniment to Mexican food. This chunky sauce is more of a topper adding to the bulk of your food as much as the flavor.

Picante sauce is more likely to be served on the side of your meal or in place of ketchup with fries or chips. Picante is made from finely chopped vegetables and is a much smoother sauce. It’s something you’d pour on top of your food as a sauce, unlike salsa. 

Both sauces are versatile enough that you can use them in any number of ways: salsa on tacos, burritos, and fajitas. Picante sauce with burgers (or even pizza).


Both sauces are based on tomatoes. They can also include peppers like jalapeños and chilis, red and/or green peppers, onions, garlic, and other spices. 

You’ll find that salsa will often include additional vegetables like corn and beans.

How They’re Made

Being of similar ingredients, they are also made very similarly. The biggest difference is the ratios of the vegetables and the side of the chopped vegetables. Picante is very finely chopped to an almost smooth consistency, while salsa is roughly chopped to keep some density. 

Salsa can be made with cooked or raw, fresh vegetables. Picante sauce is made from only cooked vegetables. 


This is the most significant difference between picante and salsa. Picante is blended smooth into an actual sauce. You won’t find any big or small chunks in it. It’s smoother and lighter in texture.

Salsa is chunky and watery. It’s designed to not just add flavor, but density to your meal.


You’ll find picante to be more smokey in flavor with additional spice and with a slight acidity on the palate. 

Salsa has a fresher flavor with more acidic notes. The onions are pungent and add a lot to the flavor profile. 

Can Picante Sauce Be Used as Salsa and Vice Versa?

There are some similarities between salsa and picante sauce. Both condiments are made from vegetables, spices, and seasonings. Salsa is usually only used as a condiment in Mexican cuisine, while picante sauce can be used on its own or as a dipping sauce for tortilla chips or other snacks.

However, there are also some differences between these two sauces so whether you can substitute them in a recipe really depends on the recipe. 

If you’re replacing a dipping sauce, then sure you can swap out your favorite salsa for the jar of picante in the pantry. Just be aware that picante is a much thinner sauce. If you go into it knowing that, then you won’t be disappointed. 

If you want something truly scoopable you’re going to want to go with salsa every time. Picante won’t serve that purpose, even the chunkier varieties. 

When it comes to pouring over your tacos and enchiladas, picante is a true sauce that’s great for that purpose. Salsa will add a similar flavor profile, but also a heavier texture to your favorite dish. Whether that matters is up to you.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What sauces are similar to salsa and picante?

Pico de Gallo is a great substitute, especially for salsa. Also known as salsa fresca, pico de gallo is also made from chopped vegetables like tomato, onion, cilantro, and of course jalapeños. It’s chopped chunky just like salsa so it’s great for dipping with your chips or topping off your tacos.

Salsa ranchero is a great Mexican sauce to pour on your enchiladas and burritos. It’s a little thicker than picante, but still has the tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilis, and cilantro for all those flavors you love. 

Enchilada sauce is a great similar sauce. Its simplicity with chili peppers, tomatoes, and onions, makes it almost identical to picante. It sits on the milder side comparatively.

Romesco sauce is also Spanish and is made from roasted red peppers, garlic, almonds, olive oil, and vinegar. Even with a different flavor profile, it’s an excellent dipping sauce that’s similar enough to picante and salsa that you won’t be disappointed. 

Black bean salsa is another common substitute, which you could guess by the name. Made with black beans, corn, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, garlic, and cilantro, you’ll find similar flavors to your favorite salsa.

Salsa verde is an offshoot of your favorite tomato-based salsa. It’s made with green tomatillos, chilis, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and some salt. It’s popular to fire roast the tomatillos and chilis before chopping them, adding an additional smokey flavor that would make this salsa a nice flavor enhancer that compliments both picante and salsa. 

Which is thicker picante sauce or salsa?

Picante, having been blended thoroughly, tends to be on the thinner side compared to salsa. The heavy chopped nature of salsa gives a chunky thick texture to salsa that lends itself well to scooping rather than the dipping for picante. 

Is pico de gallo and picante the same thing?

No. Actually, pico de gallo is far closer to salsa than picante sauce. Also known as salsa fresca, pico de gallo is another chopped up combination of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chili peppers. Pico de gallo also tends to be heavier on the peppers compared to the tomatoes. 

Picante is a blended, thin sauce made from tomatoes, chili peppers, salt, and pepper. 


We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between salsa and picante sauce. We know that these sauces are very similar, but there are some key differences between them. 

Salsa is made with many different ingredients while picante sauce is typically just tomato-based with spicy peppers. Both can be used as condiments for tacos or enchiladas but they also have other uses such as a topping on pizzas or in sauces for dipping pretzels! 

Which one you choose is really up to personal preference and what you’re using it for. The flavor profiles are similar enough, you only have to choose by texture!