All You Need To Thicken Up Watery Salsa Is A Little Tomato Paste

When it comes to salsa, there are a few key elements that make it so delicious: heat, flavor, and the right consistency. People often fixate on achieving the perfect combination of acidity and smokiness by hand-picking special ingredients and refining recipes to deliver a rich, mouthwatering flavor. As a result, it can be easy to overlook the importance of nailing your salsa's consistency. While a classic pico de gallo is known for its signature chunky tomatoes and onions, many other salsas are blended to achieve a smooth texture. The ideal blended salsa should be thin enough for dipping and pouring but not so runny that it turns your meal into a sopping mess.


While this isn't an issue with creamy salsas like salsa de cacahuate, preparing tomato-based salsas can be a bit tricky — after all, tomatoes can be notoriously watery. Fortunately, there's an easy way to thicken this kind of salsa to your exact liking: tomato paste. A tablespoon or two could be just what you need to tighten up your sauce but do keep in mind that not all salsas are the same.

A little tomato paste goes a long way

If you're in the midst of preparing your tomato-based salsa and have yet to blend the ingredients, you could try to strain your tomatoes to remove as much water from them as possible. However, if you've already combined all your ingredients then it's too late for that, but don't worry — tomato paste is the hero you need to save your salsa.


Often used to achieve a deep flavor and rich consistency in other popular sauces like barbecue and marinara, tomato paste is a thick, concentrated form of tomatoes. This pantry staple is made by cooking down tomatoes, straining the pesky seeds and skins out, and then recooking them until the water evaporates, leaving behind a dense paste. It tends to be slightly sweeter and less acidic than a fresh tomato, offering a milder flavor overall, which makes it a great thickening agent.

When trying to adjust the consistency of your salsa, it's important to be mindful of how much tomato paste you add and how you add it. Add a tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. If you're working with a salsa you prepared in a blender or food processor, re-blend it with the added tomato paste to make sure it's properly mixed. With a bit of time, patience, and extra effort, you'll be able to salvage your salsa and enjoy it on its own with chips or as part of a delicious, well-earned meal.


How to know if tomato paste is right for your salsa

Before you reach for that tube or jar of tomato paste, it's important to know that this method for thickening a watery salsa isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Salsa can be prepared with an impressive range of ingredients, whether raw or cooked. These often include tomatoes, peppers, onions, fresh herbs, garlic, and lemon or lime juice. However, certain salsas, such as mole or salsa negra, might even include chocolate or dried chilis. For instance, salsa verde uses a base of tomatillos, a green fruit that is only distantly related to tomatoes. Thickening a salsa verde with tomato paste would drastically change its color and flavor. That's why when it comes to using tomato paste to thicken a watery salsa, we recommend only adding it to tomato-based salsas, such as salsa roja.


If you're trying to thicken a salsa that isn't tomato-based, adding more ingredients to absorb the moisture or incorporating a thickener like cornstarch could help make it less watery. However, note these methods could also change the texture and flavor of your salsa depending on how you incorporate them.

Cooking isn't an exact science, especially if you're trying out a new recipe or tweaking one to your liking. When it comes to making salsas, particularly tomato-based ones, it's good to be prepared for some trial and error. With an open mind and some tomato paste in your cooking arsenal, you'll be well-equipped to enjoy the process of preparing flavorful salsa with the perfect texture.