Christopher Kimball: So here’s my question — should you in fact go to the supermarket and buy a jarred or bottled salsa? Is it really worth it? Are they worth eating, or should you just make it at home? I’m here in the tasting lab with Jack [camera pans to lineup of eight jarred hot salsas], who’s going to tell me whether these are actually worth the money.
Jack Bishop: Well, they’re not going to be as good as homemade. [CPK tastes a sample] And the biggest issue is that they’ve got to cook it in order to make it safe for the bottle.
CPK: [suddenly grimaces and winces; Jack chuckles] This is hot!
JB: Well, these are…
CPK: [interrupting] Hot salsa.
JB: These are hot salsas. Well, when we’ve tasted them in the past, we’ve tasted mild and mediums [CPK takes a sip of water], and frankly, felt like there’s no personality. Part of the problem with cooking the salsa is that number one, the texture is not crunchy. [CPK takes a spoonful of a second sample] You get a soft texture. But even more importantly, you cook out the freshness and the flavor.
CPK: This is way too hot for me, I just want you to know. But… [thirstily gulps down water]
JB: Well, I know you’re not into spicy foods, but our tasters actually felt like the hottest of the hot were the best. A couple of factors, we said, besides heat. One was the amount of solid material. [CPK digs through the next sample with his spoon] And we found that the more solids, meaning the more vegetables, the better its overall rating. You’re on fire, Chris? [fans his hand toward CPK; CPK fans himself] You’re breathing fire?
CPK: Man on fire! [fans himself harder]
JB: Deep breaths, Chris. [smiles] Deep breaths.
CPK: Well, I think the point is that if it’s so hot you can’t taste how bad the rest of it is. Is that it? Is there some truth to that?
JB: [stammering] There is some truth to that. [CPK tastes, grimaces, and hoots, “Woo, that’s hot!”] There was one brand that we thought was perhaps too hot. Some people loved it, but a lot of the tasting panel said, “This is beyond hot.” It’s, you know, four-alarm [CPK pants loudly, fans his mouth and sucks in air], and hotter than they wanted. Although I think you’re probably saying that about most of these, Chris. [CPK bites a chip]
CPK: Well, this is tomato juice. [picking up and setting down sample #3]
CPK: Even I find that to be too tomato saucy. This [points to sample #2] is the hottest.
CPK: This one has a… [chews a spoonful of sample #4 thoughtfully and digs around with his spoon] This has something else going on [wrinkles brow in puzzlement], some other flavor in here.
CPK: Which is good, actually. I kind of like the flavor of that. But it’s not as hot.
JB: And the last one…
CPK: You know, this one has just a lot of tomato juice. [stirs sample #1 around with his spoon and takes a taste] Not enough veggies, not enough crunch. [points with spoon] It’s pretty hot, though. This one… [picks up sample #2 again and gasps loudly] Why do I keep eating this? I’m an idiot. [downs another spoonful]
JB: If you’re in such pain, Chris, you keep going back to it.
CPK: Oh, boy. Well [fanning himself], if we’re measuring these by heat level [JB chuckles], this is incinerator level for me personally. This [sample #3] is the weakest, and is boring. This [sample #4] has a really interesting flavor. It’s a little sweeter, it has something else going on. And this one [sample #1] just is like tomato sauce. So I would pick this one [indicating the hottest sample], but let’s start here [unveils sample #1].
JB: That is from Emeril’s, and we thought it was just too boring. It was at the bottom of the rankings. It was, like, tomato puree. It didn’t feel like salsa.
CPK: This was the hot one. If you want hot, that’s the hot one. [unveils sample #2]
JB: That’s Pace. That was our winner. [CPK hoots and fans himself] It’s hot. Our tasters didn’t think it was over-the-top hot, but it’s got a lot of personality to it.
CPK: This one was really sweet and boring. [unveils sample #3]
JB: This is last place, and again, we felt like it had no personality to it, didn’t really feel like true salsa.
CPK: This wasn’t really hot [pointing to sample #4], but it had some other flavors. I kind of liked the other flavors.
JB: This is Green Mountain Gringo. This was actually the one that most of our tasters thought was too hot, Chris.
CPK: [jestingly] No problem for a guy like me.
JB: Well, you didn’t seem to think it was so hot. Maybe I burned your taste buds off earlier.
CPK: These wimpy tasters, they just can’t take it. So the winner was — an incinerator level of heat, I would have to say — is Pace chunky salsa. Yeah, it’s pretty good, and it comes in a bottle in the supermarket.
View the full report on Hot Jarred Salsas
Captioned by Media Access Group at WGBH
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