How To Thicken Salsa – Fix Watery Salsa This Way!

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If you’ve ever made salsa at home and compared it to store-bought, you’ll likely know just how watery salsa can get. There are a few different reasons for this disparity – and, luckily for you, ways to rectify it too.

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But before getting started, I should provide some key information on the topic. So, let’s go through everything now!

thick salsa served with tortilla chips

Table of Contents

How Thick Should Salsa Be?

The answer to this question depends on what kind of salsa you are making; for example, salsa fresca shouldn’t be liquidy at all, but a salsa dip should be pretty thick.

How Your Choice Of Salsa Affects The Runniness

Salsa, deceptively enough, may not be as simple as you might’ve thought. Salsas are actually quite diverse in variety, ingredients, and use.

The salsas that you are most likely to have come across (at least in the States) are salsa verde, pico de gallo (also called salsa fresca), and salsa roja. The latter is the most similar to jarred salsa dips that you might find at the grocery store.

There are many differences between these types of salsa, but the one I’m going to talk about today is the difference in consistency. The only one of these salsas that should ever be called watery is salsa verde – it is a thinner salsa made of diced tomatillos, usually used for taco dishes.

Both pico de gallo and salsa roja should never be runny or watery – but, it happens of course. The main difference between these salsas is that pico is made with fresh, dry ingredients. As long as you don’t add too much lime juice to pico de gallo, it should be fine. For reference, I’ve made a table comparing these main types of salsa.

Pico De Gallo/Salsa FrescaSalsa VerdeSalsa rojaCommercial-style salsa dip
DescriptionAs salsa fresca should just be the base ingredients for a salsa, chopped up, it shouldn’t be very liquidy at all. A little liquid from the lime juice is okay but more than that is bad.Thin, very liquidy and should not be chunky.Somewhere between verde and dip – salsa roja maintains the chunks of chopped ingredients but tends to be a fair bit thinner than commercial dips. It is likely the inspiration for these dips, which have been thickened for a better dipping experience with chips. The ingredients in this salsa should be quite blended into the mixture and the mix should be quite thick
ConsistencyChunky, not liquidyThin and runnyThickish consistency, but still a little runnyThick n’ chunky

What Causes A Runny Salsa?

Find yourself asking ‘why is my salsa too runny’? Well, it’s actually a pretty common concern! Unless you’re specifically looking to make a thick salsa, or looking at recipes that use thickening ingredients, any raw homemade salsa is bound to come out a little runny. There are innumerable reasons for this, but they can easily be rectified.

How Do You Fix Watery Salsa?

There are many different methods to fix a watery salsa – so many that they have their own subheadings! So don’t worry about thickening salsa without cornstarch, I have plenty of alternative methods to keep you covered.

How To Thicken Salsa: Different Methods

Cook It!

If you haven’t considered making a cooked salsa before… Roasting your tomatoes before adding them to the salsa will not only give your salsa a unique texture but will also work to activate the pectin within the tomatoes. Pectin is a naturally-occurring chemical that works great for thickening up sauces – and salsas! You don’t necessarily have to cook the other ingredients, but roasting the peppers and onions does sweeten them up and reduces the amount of liquid they expel.

Time spent simmering will also help the salsa reduce – the salsa will become smooth and thick. If you want to keep some chunkiness, keep a quarter to a half of the ingredients fresh and mix them in after your salsa has cooled down. For some additional help, tomato paste will facilitate the process and make your salsa thicken up more quickly.

Thickening Cooked Salsa – Tips And Tricks!

The best tomatoes to use for a cooked salsa are plum tomatoes! This is because they have a good seed-to-flesh ratio. In lieu of those, try using cherry tomatoes paired with celery! Roast them, then blend them together after cooling and you will find that they’ll create a suspended mass to use as a base for your salsa. If you’d like to use sun-dried tomatoes instead, rest assured that they can also work in a salsa. Just be sure to check if they’ve gone bad first.

Still not happy with the thickness of your sauce? Add a tomatillo husk while simmering your salsa to reduce the viscosity (make sure to remove it after). If you’d like to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, do the same as you would for cutting acidity in a tomato sauce.

cooked tomatoes

Thickening Agents

  • Cornstarch
    • The best way to thicken salsa with cornstarch is by adding your starch to a bowl with an equal amount of water and whisking until a paste is formed. For every cup of salsa, use 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Once the cornstarch is ready, heat your salsa until simmering and add in the paste. Stir continuously and take off the heat after about a minute.
  • Arrowroot
    • Yuca, manioc, cassava, arrowroot… This starchy root is a staple all over Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It can also provide some of the best results for thin salsas – even better than cornstarch or guar gum! To use, just follow the same instructions as the cornstarch.
  • Oil
    • Using a blender or a food processor, emulsify a neutral tasting oil into a part of your salsa. Depending on the oil you choose, this likely won’t thicken it much but can still be a help in bringing together your salsa. If you like your salsa chunky, mix in the rest of it by hand afterwards.
  • Guar Gum And Xanthan Gum In Salsa
    • To thicken salsa with gum, add half a teaspoon of gum to water (for xanthan, this water must be heated). Then, simply whisk until it has a paste or slurry-like consistency and add to your salsa! Use a ratio of half a teaspoon of gum to every cup of salsa.
  • Flour
    • I wouldn’t recommend using flour to thicken salsa as it’s so easy to make a mistake that leaves your salsa bland and powdery. Nevertheless, it works in a pinch – or if you’re experienced in making flour slurries. Follow this guide on thickening sauces with flour to learn how to thicken salsa with flour!
flour pyramid

Additional Ingredients That Can Thicken Salsa

  • Tomato Paste
    • This may be a little obvious, but you can use tomato paste to thicken salsa! It might not get your salsa to quite that dipping salsa consistency though, so if you’d like it thicker then you might have to combine it with another method.
  • Nopales
    • Popular in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Ethiopia, nopales will add a lovely nutty flavor to your salsa. To thicken your salsa, roast some nopales and purée them before adding them to the dish.
  • Avocado
    • While not necessarily being thickening in itself, the creamy texture of a well-mashed avocado can work wonders for your salsa. It also tends to compliment salsa very well and can serve as a two-in-one in regards to the guac situation at your table!
  • Okra
    • Also eaten worldwide, okra can be an excellent addition to salsa. It’s spongy texture soaks up the flavors of the other ingredients, and the notorious ‘slime’ adds a unique and thicker texture to the salsa.

Inspired by all the extra ingredients you can add into salsa? Why not top it all off with some jalapeños! You can even use the leftovers to make jalapeño poppers that will pair well with stovetop quesadillas. Just be sure to know the difference between red and green jalapeños varieties first.

Growing nopales to thicken salsa

How To Store Thickened Salsa

How To Thicken Salsa For Freezing

For freezing, the method you used for thickening doesn’t matter! Just cook and reduce – or try some of the other methods – to get a good, freezable salsa. To prepare salsa for freezing, simply transfer it to a tupperware or a bowl with a plastic cover. Alternatively, you can store your salsa in the fridge – just be sure to check how long your salsa will last.

How To Thicken Salsa For Canning

Canning instructions are much stricter than freezing, purely because it can be much more dangerous. Never thicken salsa with flour or cornstarch before canning, and only use research-tested recipes. Researched recipes will only give processing times for pint jars, never quart jars, so make sure to look out for this. The best place to find these recipes is on government or university websites – just add .gov or .edu after searching for a canning recipe. It’s incredibly important to follow the recipe to a T, as improperly preserved food can cause botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning.

Thick salsa not watery being used for dipping

Thick Salsa – Not So Hard After All

So, there you have it! All the different ways you can thicken salsa. Whether you choose to thicken up your roja by cooking, adding different ingredients, or using thickening agents, I hope that this article proves to be fruitful in your salsa journey!

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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