What Makes Pico De Gallo Different From Salsa?

Pico de gallo is a fresh, flavorful staple of Mexican cuisine. Tomato salsa is also a staple filled with mostly the same ingredients. Is pico de gallo the same thing as salsa, though? In the technicalities of the Mexican language, pico de gallo is a type of salsa. Though it falls under the salsa umbrella, pico de gallo is more like a salad than a salsa. It is a subcategory of sorts.


While the word salsa may conjure an image of a cool, red dip with chunks of fresh veggies alongside a heap of tortilla chips (if not an expressive, rhythmic partner dance style), salsa is just the Spanish word for sauce. When it comes down to essential ingredients, pico de gallo and salsa are one and the same. How those ingredients are prepared and presented, though, is where the differences become apparent — the components are chopped up into small pieces in pico de gallo. Salsa, in contrast, is made by blending the same ingredients to create a more homogenous sauce.

A peek at pico de gallo

Pico de gallo is a type of salsa with its own style. It also goes by the names salsa fresca and salsa bandera, meaning fresh sauce and flag sauce, respectively. The former acknowledges its cool, fresh taste and its sauce-like function as a flavorful and semi-liquid topping for other dishes. The latter points out the parallels between the colors of the ingredients and the Mexican flag — red from tomatoes, green from cilantro and chilis, and white from white onions– yes, there is a difference between white and yellow onions


Finely dicing the Mexican flag-colored ingredients and mixing them with fresh lime juice, salt, and pepper is all it takes to create a traditional pico de gallo. The vegetables are always served fresh, never cooked. Its refreshing, zesty flavor and simplicity make it a perfect accompaniment for any savory Mexican dish, including tacos, fajitas, and the best burritos in California.

The scoop on salsa

Salsa is a concept that comes in many forms, but tomato salsa is the standard red sauce served alongside chips at your local Mexican restaurant. Ingredients-wise, tomato salsa most closely resembles pico de gallo. When making a tomato salsa, you can use either fresh or cooked tomatoes, and if you want to emulate the classic restaurant-style flavor, you can use a combination of both. 


Not only is salsa more liquid than pico de gallo, but it also can include more ingredients. Some salsas are more spicy than others, thanks to the addition of jalepeño. You may also add garlic to your salsa mixture for an extra layer of depth in flavor. While a recipe for pico de gallo is meant to be more straightforward and preset, salsa is meant to be a flavor experiment that you can adjust to your preferences. No matter what you're main is, it is pretty hard to go wrong with either.