How To Thicken Salsa: 11 Foolproof Methods

One of the most significant issues when making homemade salsa is when it turns out too watery. Most of us like our salsa to be thick and chunky, perfect for dipping tortilla chips or spreading on a fresh toasted crusty bread. If your salsa has turned out too runny and thin, I’ve found a few ways to help you thicken salsa.

salsa and corn chips

You can thicken salsa by adding more ingredients suited to the type of salsa. Prevent salsa from becoming watery by choosing the right tomatoes, scooping, draining, and chopping them. Adding arrowroot or xanthan gum, additional tomato paste, and less-watery vegetables will help thicken salsa.

I love freshly made salsa with tomatoes, but I’ve had a couple of times where my salsa came out too watery, thin, and not appealing. If you’ve had a similar problem, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be, but don’t throw it away! There are a few ways to thicken salsa and prevent watery sauces.

How Do I Thicken Salsa?

There are several ways to rescue a watery salsa, usually by adding a thickener to help soak up some of the liquid or adding extra vegetable ingredients that are not watery.

Different salsas have different flavors, so you’ll want to stick to ingredients that compliment your salsa. The most common salsa is the tomato-based one, and these tomatoes are usually responsible for thinning down salsa and making it too liquid.

Some vegetables are chunky, less watery, and will help bulk up your salsa, while other ingredients can give your salsa a creamy texture.

By adding more ingredients, you’ll end up with more salsa, and you’ll need to taste test and adjust your seasonings, but when is too much salsa ever a problem?

My solutions also depend on whether you’re making fresh, raw salsa or a cooked sauce. Ensure you’re using ingredients or tips that work with your salsa type.

Tip #1: Thicken Fresh Salsa By Draining

If you’ve made fresh salsa and the tomatoes have left it watery, you can line a colander with a coffee filter and leave your salsa to drain. I recommend lining even a fine sieve with either filter paper or a clean cloth, allowing the liquid to drain without losing any smaller pieces of tomato.

If you’re thrifty, you can collect the strained juice to use in another dish.

Tip #2: Thicken Fresh Salsa With Xanthan Gum

When making fresh salsa with raw ingredients, you don’t want to add thickeners that need heating to work.

Heating a fresh salsa can change the taste and texture, so I’d avoid using cornflour and instead suggest xanthan gum.

Xanthan gum has a neutral flavor so that it won’t change the taste of your salsa. You’ll only need a small pinch to thicken your sauce. Blend your sauce well, and only add more in tiny amounts until you have the consistency you want.

Please don’t add too much, as it can change the texture of your sauce and could cause stomach troubles in large amounts.

Tip #3: Thicken Fresh Salsa With Avocado

Adding a creamy ingredient like avocado can give your salsa a thicker, richer texture. The tase of avocado also goes very well with fresh tomato salsa.

Only chop and add avocados right before serving to avoid the avo turning brown and going soft or pulpy.

Some people find adding avocado (or other bland foods like cucumber) takes away the spiciness of the salsa and makes it too mild.

Tip #4: Thicken Fresh Salsa With Peppers And Cucumbers

If you dislike the creamy texture of avocado, you can also bulk up your salsa by adding other fresh vegetables that don’t go watery, like tomatoes.

Good candidates are chopped jalapenos, bell peppers, and cucumbers. You can add extra cilantro to bulk up your salsa, but some people don’t like the ‘soapy’ taste, so use to suit.

Tip #5: Thicken Fresh Salsa With Mango Or Peach

Every extra ingredient you add will change the taste of your salsa, but this can be a good thing. If you know there are certain flavors you either want to use or avoid.

If you like sweet salsa, adding fresh chopped mango or peaches can be a great way to thicken salsa.

Tip #6: Thicken Fresh Salsa With Tomatillos

Tomatillos can be a great way to thicken a salsa by using a fruit native to Central America, and chopped tomatillos have different flavors depending on their color.

 If you add green tomatillos, they will add a tart, fresh flavor, while the sweeter red and purple versions, often used in jam-making, add extra sweetness.

Tomatillos have natural pectins, which are thickening agents used in jams. Pectin requires heating, which is also a way to thicken cooked salsas.

Tip #7: Thicken Cooked Salsa With Longer Cooking Time

If you’ve made a cooked sauce, there are other ways to improve the thickness, usually requiring extra ingredients, thickeners, and heat.

The first way that uses no extra ingredients that could change the flavor is to cook your salsa over low heat. Cook your salsa in a wide pot or saucepan and leave the lid off so the moisture can escape.

Keep checking and frequently stirring to avoid your salsa burning, or sticking to the pan’s bottom. Cook until your salsa reaches the desired consistency.

This method also works for thickening marinara sauce, and baked beans.

Tip #8: Thicken Cooked Salsa With Tomato Paste

Once you’ve cooked your salsa mixture, you can add a tablespoon – or two, depending on how much salsa you’re making – to the sauce. Adding paste can add extra thickness and a richer, deeper tomato flavor. (Likewise, this also works with tomato soup!)

Tip #9: Thicken Cooked Salsa With Ground Seeds And Nuts

Mix and grind some suitable nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds, to create a paste that you can add to your salsa. This ground paste will give your salsa a much earthier, nuttier flavor, which can work very well with salsa-topped crusty bread.

Use nuts that are not intensely flavored, and experiment to see which nuts and seeds work well for you.

Tip #10: Thicken Cooked Salsa With Arrowroot

Arrowroot is a common ingredient in many Asian and gluten-free kitchens and can be a great way to thicken your salsa. Never add arrowroot directly to the sauce, but first, blend it thoroughly with a little cold water.

Use a tiny amount to start, usually around half a teaspoon, and add the arrowroot mixture to your salsa at the end of the cooking time. The less time you heat it, the better, as prolonged heat can make it break down and lose its thickening properties.

As arrowroot has minimal flavor, it is unlikely to change the taste of your salsa, making it a better option for some than cornstarch.

In general, I’ve found arrowroot to be the best thickener for salsa; better than cornstarch, guar gum, and xanthan gum, though potato starch can also do in a pinch.

Tip #11: Thicken Cooked Salsa With Cornstarch

Cornstarch is a handy ingredient used to thicken cooked soups and sauces. Most of us have cornstarch in the pantry, and it’s relatively easy to use.

Many chefs prefer only to use cornstarch as a last resort, as it can affect the taste and texture of your salsa; however, it’s one of the most convenient ingredients, so if it’s all you have, here’s how to use it.

Mix a scant teaspoon of cornstarch with a little cold water to make a thin liquid, then add this to your salsa on the stovetop.

Stir in the liquid cornstarch mixture, and allow the salsa to thicken as you keep stirring. Cornstarch can also change the look of your salsa, so only add a tiny amount. Add near the end of the cooking time to prevent the thickener from breaking down and becoming thin again.

Is Salsa Meant To Be Watery?

There are different types of salsa, some of which are more thin and runny than others.

Pico de Gallo salsa made with tomato, onion, peppers, and cilantro should not be watery. Fresh salsa left to sit will become more watery as the ingredients break down as the salt draws out the liquid.

You can refresh your salsa and thicken it by straining it, but fresh salsa is best eaten just after it has been served.

If you plan to make your fresh Pico de Gallo salsa ahead of time, it’s best to leave the salt out until just before serving to prevent your salsa from becoming too watery.

What Salsa Is Meant To Be Thin?

The thin red cooked salsa, known as Salsa Taquera, will appear more sauce-like and thinner than the fresh variety and the cooked Salsa Roja. Thanks to the Arbol chiles, it also tends to have a kick.

Once cooked, this salsa is blended into a smooth sauce. It’s a thinner sauce than the purred, chunky Salsa Roja, which is made with tomato, onion, jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, and salt.

It depends on what kind of salsa you’re preparing; some are meant to be thinner or thicker than others.

salsa and chips

More Questions About Thickening Salsa

You can prevent your salsa from becoming too watery with some tips on ingredients choices and preparation.

What Tomatoes Should I Use for Thicker Salsa?

One of the reasons salsa can become so watery is because of the type of tomatoes used. Some tomatoes are much better for salsa; one of my favorites is the Roma tomato. Younger tomatoes will also have less juice, while riper ones will be more liquid.

Choose paste tomato for salsa, a tomato type that is fleshy and has few seeds and less juice. The best tomato types for salsa are:

  • Roma plum
  • Little Mama/Big Mama
  • Amish Paste
  • San Marzona

How to Prevent Watery Salsa?

Besides choosing tomatoes with less liquid and seeds, you can also avoid watery salsas by halving your tomatoes to scoop out the seeds, then chopping the tomatoes by hand rather than pureeing them in a blender.

Add salt only before serving, as salt draws moisture out of vegetables and can make your salsa watery the longer the sauce stands.

You can use salt to your advantage here by adding salt to your tomatoes while draining them to get even more liquid out before adding them to your salsa.

Can I Use Canned Tomatoes for a Thick Salsa?

You can use canned tomatoes for your salsa in a pinch, though the taste will be slightly different from fresh tomatoes. Always drain the canned tomatoes entirely before using them to avoid extra liquid in the salsa.

Using a can of fire-roasted tomatoes will improve the flavor, though many canned fire-roasted tomatoes also have additional seasonings, so taste-test your salsa before adding more spices.


Salsa is a wonderful Mexican dip that is beloved by many. You can easily make salsa at home by using a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and other ingredients. However, some of these ingredients are extra juice and can result in watery salsa if you don’t know what you’re doing. If this happens to you, try one of the above methods to thicken your salsa perfectly!

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