Updated on 10.24.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Making Your Own Salsa

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Alexis writes in: My husband and I go through a jar of salsa a week. Problem is, the brands without high fructose corn syrup average $2.79 at our grocery store. Would it be cheaper to make our own? Since tomato season is about to end on the East Coast, would canned tomatoes make a difference in the DIY route?

I’m with you on avoiding the high fructose corn syrup in salsas. I try to avoid it in everything I eat. The human body doesn’t need it, to say the least.

Of course, when you make that choice, prices go up. As you mention, it’s pretty tough to find salsa in the store without corn syrup in it for under $3 per jar.

But how much does it cost to make salsa at home? I like Alton Brown’s simple salsa recipe, so I’ll use that as an example. It contains:

6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 seeded and minced jalapenos, plus 2 roasted, skinned and chopped jalapenos
1 red bell pepper, fine dice
1/2 red onion, fine chopped
2 dry ancho chiles, seeded, cut into short strips and snipped into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lime, juiced
Chili powder, salt, and pepper, to taste
Fresh scallions, cilantro or parsley, to taste

I went to the local grocery store and price-checked these items, using a few simple substitutions (like diced tomatoes for the Romas). I came up with a total of $4.40.

I then made a batch of this and found that it made a volume of salsa equal to about two and a half typical salsa jars. I saved it fresh in the refrigerator.

So, my cost per jar of making it from scratch is about $1.80. This assumes, of course, that I keep it fresh in the refrigerator and don’t can it. If I choose to can it, the cost is going to start approaching that of just buying a jar in the store.

My conclusion is that if you’re just making some fresh salsa for a party or something, it’s cheaper to make good salsa yourself. However, if you’re making it to can, you’re going to want to think about your approach carefully.

Of course, there’s one big key to all of this: the garden. If you have a garden that can provide you some or all of the ingredients in the recipe, your salsa is going to be less expensive whether you can it or not.

For example, pulling just the tomatoes and a bell pepper from one’s own garden drops the price of ingredients by about half. Plus, your salsa will taste better. This saves dollars, not pennies, and it saves your taste buds, too.

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  1. sergiogsr says:

    No need for the Bell pepper and the chili powder. And usually Jalapeños are not used to make salsa.

    Stay with the “chile ancho”, or try “chile de arbol”, “chile Chipotle” (those are a variation of Jalapeño, dried and with vinegar), “Chile guajillo” and if you’re really brave “chile habanero”.

    You can add chicken broth or stock.

  2. Other Jonathan says:

    My wife makes the most delicious fresh “pico de gallo” style salsa – it’s pretty much just fresh chopped tomatoes, purple and white and green onion, (or whatever’s available), finely chopped cilantro, some garlic salt, and plenty of lemon and lime juice. We don’t like spicy salsa, so this, served cold on tortilla chips or pretty much any mexican food, is incredible. I have never priced it out – I’m sure the tomatoes are the primary driver of the price. Also, because it gets eaten almost instantaneously, you could say it’s pricier than the stuff from the store automatically.

  3. Joanna says:

    I just make pico de gallo as well, no need for all that other stuff. 1 tomato, 1/2 white onion, couple jalepenos and some cilantro. Chop it all up and stir together. mmm. A dollar, maybe less.

  4. EllenB says:

    For those of us with unfortunate allergies to raw tomatoes and green peppers, I cook up a large pot of salsa and freeze what won’t be consumed within a reasonable amount of time. Since the salsa is cooked, freezing won’t affect the quality of the vegs. This year’s tomato harvest wasn’t very good, so I chopped up extra tomatoes as they ripened, popped into the freezer, and used those for the salsa when I had enough for a batch.

  5. Carmie says:

    I make a “canned” salsa that everyone loves. It’s super easy. I got the recipe from my mother-in-law. We call it “hot dip.”

    1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
    1 small onion roughly chopped
    1 can medium heat diced chilis
    1 tbs cumin
    1 tbs garlic salt
    1 tbs accent seasoning
    chili powder to taste

    Dump all in a food processor. Pulse to the consistency you like. Chill. This is awesome cold.

    Sometimes I’ll add in half a bell pepper if I have one on hand, but this is truly a “pantry” dish as you really shouldn’t have to make a special trip for anything.

  6. Melody says:

    However, the cost of canning goes down considerably if you do it a lot and start re-using your jars. In season, you can also get a great deal on larger amounts of tomatoes if you go to a farmer’s market. Even last week, I was able to get enough tomatoes and peppers to make 9 pints of salsa for about $15 (end of season tomatoes and jalapenos that needed to get sold quickly, along with in season onions). I reused the jars I already had, bringing the cost to under 1.75 a jar.

  7. Lilly says:

    As others have said, you don’t need all those fancy ingredients to make a very good, cheap homemade salsa. I use a can of diced tomatoes, a clove of garlic, lots of chopped onion, chopped cilantro and sea salt. You don’t even need lime juice. Put everything in the food processor and pulse to the desired consistency. If you want to make it fancier and a little hotter, add 1/2 to a whole chipotle pepper in adobo sauce. The beauty of homemade salsa is not that it’s so much cheaper to make your own but that it’s so vastly superior to any of the bottled stuff sold in market.

  8. Creede says:

    I’m a pico de gallo kind of guy myself. My wife and daughter can’t eat most peppers so we just stick with the onion, tomato, lime and cilantro. Maybe a little chili powder. Cheap and tasty; how cheap depends on what the price of tomatoes is at the moment.

    Trent, you pointed out the key to all this at the beginning of your reply: anything you make yourself is made to your taste and health requirements. Cost falls by the wayside if you’re like me and want a salsa with no peppers in it, or if you’re like Alexis and want to avoid the HFCS.

  9. littlepitcher says:

    Maters are cheap a month before first frost to the week after. You-pick farms routinely sell them for $5/5 gallon bucket. I just paid $9 for 25 lbs, cheaper than driving, $3 for 3 lbs red jalapenos, $1 for 5 limes, and $1.99 for 5 garlic bulbs. Vinegar, cumin, and 2 bunches of cilantro, $1.50; 3 boxes jar lids, $3. Results: 20 pint jars plus 10 12-ounce jars, for around fifty cents each. The salvage salad dressing jars made it through the pressure canner just fine. Not a speck of HFCS or salt. Go for it.

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