The word ‘salsa’ means ‘sauce’ in Spanish and Italian and features tomatoes as the main ingredient, complimented by other flavors like onion and chilies.
A salsa can be cooked or raw, but you will most likely find a freshly made salsa from raw ingredients that combines tart, hot, spicy, and fresh tastes, perfect for dipping or adding to any dish that needs a bit of zing.
What makes a salsa is undeniably the tomato and, more specifically, the type of tomato you choose.
If you are going to blend all the ingredients you can use any type of tomato because the amount of water or seeds doesn’t make much of a difference to the final product. This type of salsa is often referred to as restaurant-style salsa or salsa roja usually used as a dip.
But for fresh salsa, the tomatoes are diced and the amount of water and seeds have a big impact on the overall taste. Slicing tomatoes are the thing to use for fresh salsa and it’s important to choose well to get the best results.
Out of the slicing tomatoes, look for fleshy tomatoes with few seeds and low water content – often found in varieties referred to as paste tomatoes or Roma tomatoes. Here are some of the best to look out for.
As the name suggests, this tomato was specifically bred to be the ultimate salsa tomato. It’s a bright red Roma/paste hybrid tomato that holds its shape well when chopped – even in tiny pieces. An all-meat variety that has less water and a good flavor.
An Italian heirloom known for its excellent flavor and slightly thicker flesh than regular Roma tomatoes. They also have fewer seeds. Any chef will tell you that this variety canned is arguably the best in the world.
Although the San Marzano variety of tomato can be grown anywhere, the authentic flavor comes from a small region of Italy between Naples and Salerno. It also comes with a stamp of origin and status, the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) which is similar to the stamp of origins for Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar from Modena. They have a sweetness and just the right of acidity for the perfect salsa.
A teardrop-shaped tomato with an amazing flavor that just screams out for slicing and dicing. The deep red color of these paste-type tomatoes adds a great depth to a salsa and the sweet and tangy flavor is quite unique. It’s an heirloom variety believed to have originated in the Amish community in Wisconsin around the 1870s (although that hasn’t been verified).
This plum tomato has a red to orange color and is part of the paste category. The plants are prolific and quite disease-resistant, making them a popular choice for growing for salads, salsas, sauces and pastes. The fruits are very meaty with thick walls and a strong flavor.
The Little Mama tomato plant produces clusters of red tomatoes that are just a little bigger than cocktail size with firm flesh and a delicious taste. These are Roma-type tomatoes with vigorous growth and produce early crops of tasty fruit.
One of the best paste tomatoes is Big Mama. With much bigger fruit than Little Mama, these bright red plum-shaped tomatoes are perfect for slicing and chopping up for salsa and salads. This type is a good all-rounder in the vine-type tomato category, both hardy and fairly disease-resistant.
Juliet is an award-winning red tomato the shape of mini Romas with an excellent flavor. The plants are prolific fruit-producers which makes them very popular for home growing. They form clusters, much like grapes, and are extremely versatile for a number of tomato dishes.
Go yellow with Banana Legs fruit in vibrant canary color. The shape is long and somewhat banana-like, hence the name, but they also have a lovely flavor with a fruity sweet taste. The flesh is meaty and not too juicy – exactly what you are looking for in a salsa. The plants produce very well in ideal conditions.
The deep purple to red color of these tomatoes makes them unique and adds a depth of flavor to a salsa dish. It’s a unique tomato that comes from Ukraine and is an heirloom variety.
A variety with red and orange stripes that is a cross between Banana Legs and Roman Candle paste tomatoes. It’s a high-yield variety that has an excellent tomato flavor with few seeds. It’s also quite beefy, ideal to make a good salsa.
Varieties To Avoid
When making salsa, avoid any tomatoes that have a lot of seeds like Large Red Cherry or Bloody Butcher. Although some say that the seeds add to the flavor, it’s not great to have them all over your salsa and can make it bitter.
The other thing to look out for is a high water content. Tomatoes that fall into this category are usually those that are best for making juice. Avoid Better Boy, Champion, Supersteak, Royal Flush and Celebrity.
If you want to make salsa and you don’t have a proper salsa tomato (whether it may have a high water content or too many seeds), simply slice in half and scoop out the seeds and watery bits from the center, using only the outside flesh instead for the same result.
How To Make Fresh Tomato Salsa
There are many ingredients that can be added to a salsa depending on your personal preference, but the idea is to keep everything fresh so that the produce speaks for itself.
Here are the ingredients for a fresh spicy salsa:
- Tomatoes – the majority of the ingredients
- Onion – red, brown, spring, or green
- Chilies of your choice – jalapeños, green, or red
- Herbs – cilantro is the most popular, but oregano is also often used
- Acid – such as lime juice or white wine vinegar
Season with salt and pepper and mix in well. Set aside for a few hours for the flavors to develop before serving. For more of a Mexican theme, add grilled corn and avocado.