Supermarket Salsa: Super Bowl-Worthy?
It's a big game, but somebody's gotta ignore it. That's my job this Sunday night, when two packs of big burly guys from up North throw a ball and pummel each other in the ground one last time to determine who's the baddest bunch of footballers of 2007.
My husband often asserts that I'm highly un-American, (never been to Vegas or watched "Star Wars") and my refusal to watch the Super Bowl ("Come on, the commercials are great") is a highly unpatriotic act that worries him.
Although I don't actively participate and join the party around the telly, I do recognize that I have an important behind-the-scenes role to play -- as arbiter of snacks.
Four hours of grunting in front of a mega-HD, turbo surround-sound flat-screen television is hard work. I'm getting exhausted just thinking about it. Physical labor of this intensity requires sustenance to help maintain endurance and mental acuity. This isn't just a marathon, folks; it's a snack-a-thon.
To that end, I suggest a full-on fatty feast, no utensils (or napkins) so that you feel a spiritual kinship with your cave-inhabiting brethren. This day is why chips and dips were invented, after all, so embrace the tradition and use those jeans to wipe your fingers!
Since this year's contest is held in Glendale, Ariz., a southwestern theme is highly appropriate. For dips, you might try a hold-the-velveeta queso or an guacamole from today's Food section's Guac-Off Challenge (complete with recipes and tips). But let's not forget the go-to dip of choice -- salsa.
Because the quality of your Super Bowl snack stash is of my utmost primary concern, I've taken on the task of facilitating a blind taste test of supermarket salsas. Last month, I enlisted the smarts and palates of eight crackerjack tasters, split evenly between the sexes, to taste six brands of jarred salsas available at either a Washington area Harris Teeter or Whole Foods store.
To help establish a standard unit of measure, all of the salsas in the tasting are of "medium" heat (according to their labels) and all were sampled with the same brand of tortilla chips (Nana's Cocina from Manassas, Va.-based Abuelita Foods)
In addition to examining balance of flavor (salty-sweet-acid-heat), the group analyzed several critical characteristics including chip clingability and heat accuracy (i.e. is it a true "medium"?) to help determine which -- or if any -- of the contestants were ultimately worth purchasing. In the scheme of things, salsa is a relatively inexpensive proposition -- all contestants are under $4 - but if a salsa doesn't sing, the culinary impact on your snack-a-thon can be, well, devastating.
The results, listed after the jump, indicate no clear winner, but instead three big losers, neck and neck for the booby prize. All eight tasters unanimously gave the boot to Amy's Salsa, which had only a narrow edge on Newman's Own (7 to 1) and Frontera (6 to 2).
After you've perused the panel's assessments, take the salsa poll at the bottom of this page or weigh in on your favorite supermarket salsa in the comments area. Salsas are listed in alphabetical order, not in rank of preference.
Now, let's play ball!
Amy's Salsa "made with organic tomatoes" (17.5 ounces, $3.79)
Tasting notes: "Nasty flavor, metallic taste," "Too tangy, tastes very jar-like,"
"Can't place why but it is very wet and not in a good way." On chip clingability:
"Everyone who eats this will have red spots on their shirts - it's too runny."
Super Bowl-Worthy? The vote was unanimous: No way, Jose.
Frontera "Thick & Chunky" with roasted tomato, jalapeno and cilantro (16 ounces, $3.99)
Tasting notes: "Mystery flavor is too dominant. Interesting at first but becomes overpowering," "Kinda runny but there are probably less preservatives," "Best looking of the bunch, most natural," "Overwhelmingly smoky taste, but something's not right - tastes fake," "A non-chunky salsa can be good but in this case, it doesn't make that leap to restaurant quality." (ironic, given that it's labeled as "thick & chunky" and is the handiwork of celebrity chef Rick Bayless.)
Super Bowl-Worthy? Six voted no; two said "maybe." Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the half-time show.
Green Mountain Gringo Salsa (16 ounces, $3.99)
Tasting notes: "Way too sweet," "It looks very dark and tomato paste-y," "Too watery for me and the tomatoes don't taste as sharp/fresh as I'd like," "Both fruity and spicy - a nice combination that would satisfy most every guest," "A taco-friendly mix: you can taste the chili powder, I think." (no chili powder in the list of ingredients, but tomatillos, pasillas and jalapenos.) Super Bowl-Worthy? Four tasters gave the thumbs up; three considered this not quite touchdown material.
Newman's Own 'All- Natural Bandito" Salsa (11 ounces, $2.49)
Tasting notes: "Tastes like it's missing salt," "wimpy-watery," "very bland, very forgettable. A step up from tomato paste." (the third-listed ingredient)
Consensus: Runny, lacking flavor, and not a true "medium."
Super Bowl-Worthy? Seven out of 8 said not a ball's chance...
Pace "Chunky" (15 ounces, $3.19)
Tasting notes: "This was the best," "Nice fresh taste" "Tastes like the jar," "Too tomato-y," "The smell - I didn't want to put this in my mouth," This is the winner of best fit with a cold beer."
Super Bowl-Worthy? This one needs the help of a referee: the vote was split down the middle on both sides.
Tostitos "All Natural Chunky" (15.5 ounces, $3.19)
Tasting notes: "A slight pickle taste," "Tangy - like it," this is a drunken frat party salsa," "kinda bright in color. That's not a good sign. Looks artificial."
Super Bowl-Worthy? It was a mixed vote. Four sang its praises, three gave it the boot and one lonely soul was on the fence.
Many thanks to my intrepid salsa troopers: Rocci, Christian, Rhome, Dan, Holly, Amy, Sarah and Tanya.
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