Chips and salsa are a classic appetizer, but with the amount I can put back, you’d think it was a full meal.
In all seriousness, salsa is a refreshing, spicy, and tasty way to feed hungry mouths and please the masses. Throw it on top of some tamales, and you’ve got a meal they’ll come running back for.
However, everyone’s spice tolerance is different, so that jar you picked up from the farmer’s market may be too much for your tastes.
But there’s no need to give it away or pour it down the drain.
Below, we’ll detail the many ways you can mellow your salsa’s flavor, so you can enjoy it without bursting into flames.
What Makes Salsa Spicy?
It’s all about the peppers! Although the combination of citrus and acids can pack a punch, the peppers are what truly bring the heat.
But to understand that more, we’ll have to dive a little deeper into their organic biology. Trust me, it’s worth the read.
Pepper plants have one defense mechanism against frugivores (fruit-eaters), and it lies in the spice! They coat their seeds and fruit with capsaicin, which, when eaten, produces that burning sensation we all know and, sometimes, love.
However, there are many strategies to cut through the capsaicin, so you can enjoy those flavors without the burn.
Salsa, like most dishes out there, is all about balance. Balancing out the spicy capsaicin-coated peppers with citrus, acid, and fat is key. We want flavorful salsa – burning sensation not included.
Here are six ways to mellow out the spice and bring out the flavor.
How to Make Salsa Less Spicy
Most Effective: Dilution
Dilution works for both homemade and store-bought salsas. Adding in more mild ingredients balances out the spice without altering the actual flavor. Because we want the flavor, just not as much heat.
You can always dilute your salsa by adding more of the base ingredients, such as tomatoes or onions. Tomatoes are acidic and sweet, so they should cut through the spice effectively.
But that’s not all! If you make one batch of salsa and find it’s far too hot, you can make another smaller batch without peppers and combine the two. That way, you’re still acing the flavor game without burning a hole in your stomach.
Of course, there’s also ye olde reliable: water. But, you do run the risk of creating a runny, watery salsa if you pour in too much. Pour in small amounts at a time, and consider combining this method with any of those mentioned below.
Quick Fix: Acid
Citrus! A key component to any successful salsa, in my honest opinion.
If your salsa’s too hot, consider adding in some lime juice to help bring out a different flavor profile, thereby taking away from the heat.
If you’re lacking in the lime department, you can always sub for a mild vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar. Tomatoes are also fairly acidic, so you can try those as well.
Taste as you go to make sure the citrus doesn’t overpower the remaining flavors!
Fuller Flavor: Fat
Let’s dive back into that pepper chemical biology for one brief moment. Put on those thinking caps!
Fun fact: fat helps break up the capsaicin coating surrounding the seeds and flesh of peppers.
So, by adding in fatty foods, you’re breaking down that coating and saving your tongue from being burned mercilessly.
Now, the best option for salsas is, of course, the one and only fried onions. Throw them in the next batch and enjoy!
Opposites Attract: Sugar
Now, we don’t want a sweet salsa, but in order to achieve that balance, we’ve got to incorporate all the flavors. No exceptions!
Throwing in a dash of sugar can cut down on the spice as well as elevate some of the other components.
Whether you want to use pure, raw sugar, or another form (such as tomato paste), proceed with caution. It’s easy to add too much sweetness and ruin the salsa altogether. A little goes a long way!
Most Creative: Fruit
Mango salsa. I’ll say that one more time: mango salsa.
Chopping up some fruit for your hot-to-trot salsa is a great way to add sweetness as well as bulk it up. Plus, there are so many interesting flavor combinations you can try!
When making your next batch batch, add some mango, peaches, pineapples, or watermelon to cut back the spice and switch it up. The sweet and spicy contrast is to die for!
Last But Not Least: Dress It Up
Now, this isn’t a cure-all method, but it can come in handy when you’re running out of time and can’t fiddle around with the recipe any longer.
By adding cooling agents on top of your salsa, you can tone down the heat without fear of ruining the flavor.
So, next time you’re short on time, add some cucumber, avocado, or sour cream on top to relieve the burn. Cotija cheese is another delicious and flavorful option!
How to Make Store-Bought Salsa Less Spicy
When it comes to store-bought salsa, you’ll probably want to stick with the dilution method or dressing it up. You won’t be privy to the exact cooking techniques with store-bought salsa, but you can always make it up as you go!
Try adding a pinch of sugar or some lime juice–just be sure to taste throughout. You can also add chopped cilantro or a cilantro purée to cut down the spice and add that mellow flavor, so long as it doesn’t taste like soap to you!
How to Make Homemade Salsa Less Spicy
With homemade salsa, you have a little more leeway. Throw in some fruits, some more tomato, or even fried onions! You can always adjust the texture as you go with homemade salsas. Unfortunately, their store-bought counterparts prove more difficult to play with in the texture arena.
If that’s not enough, you can add some cucumber, avocado, or sour cream on top.
If that’s still too spicy for you, it’s time to dilute. Remake your recipe without the peppers and combine the two batches for a mellower, but still flavorful salsa.
The possibilities are endless, people!
How to Make Green Salsa Less Spicy
Tomatillos have a huskier flavor profile than red tomatoes, so adding fruit might not cut it.
I recommend adding citrus, salt, or sugar to make green salsa mellower.
You could try adding cilantro or fruits, but that would depend entirely on your preferences.
Does Sugar Make Salsa Spicy?
Nope! Not one bit. As you might imagine, sugar only makes salsa sweeter, not spicier.
Does Salt Reduce Spiciness?
Not really. If you want a saltier dish, you should absolutely add salt to help balance the flavor. But, in reality, only acids and fats cut down spiciness.
Salt draws out all the moisture from the veggies in your salsa, which will condense the flavor and potentially make it even spicier. So, don’t dump in a handful of salt and expect it to be less spicy!
Does Salsa Get Hotter Over Time?
Not if it’s in the fridge.
Most flavors, especially spice, are exacerbated when eaten warm. Often when kept in the fridge for long periods of time, salsa will mellow out, not get hotter.
However, if you’ve just made it, your salsa will get a tad spicier within the first hour or so. As the flavors combine and meld together, it will bring out the heat in the peppers. But after that, it should only get cooler.
How Do You Take the Heat Out of Jalapeños?
Did you know that jalapeños vary a lot in spiciness? It depends on the growing conditions as well as the plant itself! They range from 2,500 – 11,000 on the Scoville scale. You never know what you’re going to get!
So, even if your recipe calls for ¼ cup of chopped jalapeño, you won't know if they will be spicier or more mild. Have a small bite of yours, if you can handle the heat, and determine how spicy they actually are. You can always halve or quarter the amount per dish as well.
Aside from taste-testing ahead of time, there’s one more sure-fire way to cool down those jalapeños. When you’re chopping them up, be sure to remove each and every seed, as well as the ribs. Those seeds carry a lot of spice, so you’ll want to stick with the flesh only.
Phew! There are about a million ways to make your salsa less spicy, whether it’s homemade or store-bought.
If you are sweating in the summer heat, try throwing some mango or watermelon in your next batch. Or, if you’re serving spicy salsa with chips, make a second batch without peppers and combine the two for a mellower flavor.
Whatever you choose to do, have fun with it and remember to always taste along the way!