And what does pico de gallo mean?
Strawberry-Shallot Salsa
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

It’s a truth universally accepted: It’s not a party unless there’s chips and salsa. Seriously, can you imagine a tailgate, family get-together, Cinco de Mayo celebration, or even a friendly hang without this ubiquitous appetizer? While we’ve all got our favorite brands and tried-and-true recipes, one question leaves us stumped in the supermarket aisle: What’s the difference between pico de gallo and salsa? Is there a difference? Here’s the breakdown between the two, plus some must-try recipes that’ll have you rethinking the basic jarred stuff.


Salsa simply means “sauce” in Spanish, meaning the variations and interpretations of it are endless. It can be made with either cooked or raw ingredients (the latter known as salsa cruda or salsa fresca). The canned salsas you’re buying are usually made in the salsa cruda style—but to make them shelf-stable, it may be cooked slightly at low temperatures, meaning it’s not actually raw (which is why we stand by the stance that fresh-prepped salsa is the way to go when you have the time). While you’re probably most familiar with the tomato-based salsa we encounter in the chip aisle, there are no rules as to what you make salsa out of. Smoked or charred veggies, fruits, and herbs are one way to add flavor, but it’s all about personal preference, and the meal you’re enjoying it with. Looking to try something new? Peanut Salsa, Citrus-Cilantro Salsa, and Italian Salsa Verde, are fun takes on the Fresh Tomato Salsa we know and love.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo is a type of salsa. It’s Spanish for “rooster’s beak,” and according to The New Food Lover’s Companion, it got its name because it was eaten by hand with your thumb and forefinger—which looks like a rooster’s pecking beak. It’s more of a relish in texture, and is made of crisp, raw ingredients such as onion, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, cucumber, jicama, oranges, and seasonings. You’ll usually find that it has less liquid than other salsas and is much chunkier, though this can vary widely, depending on personal style and taste. If you’re eating it with tortilla chips or as topping on your favorite Mexican-inspired dish, the fresh herbs and acidity of fresh pico de gallo can be a tasty way to balance meaty, hearty, cheesy flavors. It’s also a great way to let stellar produce shine—if you’ve got gorgeous farmers market tomatoes and cilantro you want to show off, pico de gallo is the way to do it.