My dad asked for picante sauce at the store. I never heard the phrase, and asked if he meant salsa. He told me no, he meant picante sauce. He wanted Pace's picante sauce: enter image description here

This was opposed to Pace's salsa:

enter image description here

Now I thought the first one was a "salsa", just a special type of salsa. However "salsa" doesn't appear anywhere on the jar. Furthermore on www.pacefoods.com, there is a distinction between salsa and picante sauce. This led me to believe that "picante sauce" is NOT a type of "salsa".

If translated literally to Spanish, "picante sauce" just means "spicy sauce" and "salsa" just means "sauce".

So technically speaking; ketchup, barbecue sauce, A1, ranch dressing and Tobasco are ALL salsas. However if you ask me to buy some salsa you obviously don't mean A1.

According to http://www.ehow.com/facts_5770035_difference-between-salsa-picante-sauce_.html:

While the two terms are commonly used interchangeably in English, they are not synonymous, because picante sauce is a specific type of salsa.

So picante sauce IS salsa according to this website, however there is a contradiction because it says:

Picante sauce, on the other hand, has one distinguishing characteristic that sets its apart -- its intense heat.

Pace (who apparently was the inventor of picante sauce) sells mild, medium and spicy picante sauces along with salsas.

I know the stuff inside the jar that says "picante sauce" has a different texture and tastes different than the stuff inside the jar that says "salsa", so I'm not really asking what the actual culinary differences are. I know those. I'm asking about a definition.

Are "picante sauces" a subset of "salsas"? Does a tomato based sauce have to be spicy to be "picante"?

  • 1
    Salsa translates to gravy, sauce, or dip in English. Picante translates to spicy, hot, piquant, racy, tangy, or zesty as it pertains to food.
    – curt
    Dec 23, 2015 at 18:47
  • I think that eHow link is talking about hot pepper sauces like Tapatío and Valentina. Both are labeled "Salsa Picante." However they are more akin to Tabasco or Franks RedHot then Pace Picante Sauce or stereotypical salsa in American grocery stores. tapatiohotsauce.com salsavalentina.com/products May 14, 2018 at 21:02
  • Just to be clear, Pace was not the inventor of picante sauce, they were the inventor of Picante sauce. If you go to México and ask for salsa picante they are probably going to bring you habanero sauce. Which is delicious. And spicy (picante).
    – myklbykl
    Mar 28, 2020 at 1:46

4 Answers 4


There's not really a definition as precise as you're looking for. Picante sauce refers to either Pace or something similar, depending on the person. So yes, picante sauce is a somewhat ill-defined type of salsa - nothing that people call picante is not a salsa. As you point out, it does not actually mean intense heat; the regular/medium is not particularly hot and even the "hot" isn't all that hot, and people will refer to any variety of Pace Picante (or similar) as picante.

Pace's distinction between the two is more of a branding/marketing issue than anything else. They have to keep making picante, without changing the recipe too much and certainly without changing the name. They also want to make other things, and salsa is a pretty natural name. That doesn't mean their Picante isn't a kind of salsa, just that they're choosing not to market it as one. But as long as you consider basic mass-produced jarred salsa to still be salsa, Pace Picante is definitely an example of it.

The reason there's no satisfying answer or precise definition is that all usage of the term like this stems from Pace Picante sauce. It's just the name someone chose for their sauce in 1947, and since that sauce eventually became widespread in stores across the US - stores that likely didn't have a lot of other salsa - people ended up using the term in a more casual, generic way.


Salsa is the broader more generic term. Pace named their first salsa "Picante Sauce". Eventually it became popular enough for others to mimic. Hence it just means a salsa that is similar in texture and taste to the original Pace sauce.

  • +1 because your answer captures what is found about Pace brand Picante Sauce. People need to understand that marketing terms, especially in the US, don't always translate well.
    – Cindy
    May 14, 2018 at 20:50

Was just wondering this myself and looked at jar of Pace Picante. The real distinction from ordinary salsa? Pace Picante sauce includes vinegar, which is not normally included in salsa. Definitely e

  • Plenty of salsa recipes include some vinegar. I suspect that when you say "salsa" you're thinking of pico de gallo or similar. But in other salsas, like chimichurri, vinegar is standard.
    – Sneftel
    Mar 25, 2020 at 21:58
  • It looks like you didn't finish your thought there. Sneftel is correct, though. Many salsas contain vinegar. Salsa is simply "sauce," and there are many, many varieties, one of which is salsa picante (a generic term for a spicy sauce made with chili peppers). Pace has their own recipe made with jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, etc., varying in amount depending on the level of hotness (extra mild, mild, medium, or hot).
    – myklbykl
    Mar 28, 2020 at 6:14

I struggled over this in my years as a Spanish teacher. “Salsa” in Spanish is a noun which means “sauce”. “Picante” is an adjective which means “spicy”. “Picante sauce” is essentially “salsa picante”. If you don’t go to Pace’s website and read their definition, there is nothing in the words themselves to explain it. And if you are talking in Spanish to a native speaker and expect them to know the difference, especially since “pez”, pronounced “pace” means “fish” in Spanish- you will end up in a completely confusing situation.

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