There seem to be countless reasons for salsa turning bitter. With every cook having their own opinions and ideas, I decided to get to the truth of what causes the bitterness. Usually, it can be caused by one or more of the ingredients breaking down while cooking or using poor-quality ingredients. It’s time to find out more.
Salsa becomes bitter when ingredients are bad or begin to break down. This can happen because of under or over-ripe elements, like tomato, cilantro, or onion. Bitterness can also be caused by over-processing onions or using metallic canned tomatoes. Salsa is best eaten within a day to avoid it becoming bitter.
From bruised onions to under-ripe tomatoes, it is difficult to know what went wrong when it comes to bitter salsa. Join us as we reveal what causes bitter salsa, how to fix it, and how to prevent it in the future.
If you’re looking for fixes for bitter tomato sauces used for pasta and pizza, then check out my other article on how to fix bitter tomato sauce.
Why Your Salsa Is Bitter
Once you know the usual causes, it may help to use a process of elimination to try and find the bitter ingredient. Try your individual ingredients by themselves to see if there are any clues.
1. The Onions
Did you know that onions can become bitter if over-blended? Onions have a natural defense against being injured. If you chop them, the process seems to release less bitterness. When onions are blended, the bitter flavors are released, and this could cause bitterness in your salsa.
It is good to chop the onions for your salsa rather than blend them. Chopping them should help you avoid having bitter salsa.
2. The Tomatoes
When making salsa that you cook, it is a good idea to peel the tomatoes. The skins of some tomatoes can become bitter when cooked. They also tend to add a chewy texture to the salsa that is not enjoyable.
When selecting the tomatoes for your salsa, be aware of how ripe they are. Tomatoes taste the best when fully mature and have been allowed to ripen on the vine. When tomatoes are under-ripe or have been ripened in-store, they tend to be less sweet and more bitter when cooked.
Deep red tomatoes are a good option when making salsa. To be extra sure of not introducing bitterness, consider removing the seeds and the skin. Tomato seeds are not bitter if left whole but could become crushed or cut in cooking. When tomato seeds are cut or crushed, they release a bitter taste that could negatively influence your salsa.
If you are using canned tomatoes, these can often have a metallic, bitter taste which can be lessened by cooking them down or adding a pinch of sugar.
If you are deciding on fresh vs canned then check out my post, should you use fresh or canned tomatoes for salsa?
3. The Peppers
When selecting bell peppers to use in your salsa, it is better to opt for red over green. Red bell peppers are sweeter than green. Green bell peppers should not add too much bitterness to your salsa but could just tip it over the edge and give your salsa a bitter flavor. Choose red peppers for a sweeter addition to the other ingredients.
4. The Cilantro
Cilantro has a strong taste that some people find “soapy”. Adding cilantro that is past its best to your salsa could give the entire salsa a bitter taste. The reason is that the herb has started to break down. When fresh foods break down because of age, they release a bitter taste.
It is sometimes challenging to know if your cilantro is a little too old to use. If the cilantro is yellowing or mushy to the touch, it is too old and will likely not be good in your salsa.
How To Fix Your Bitter Salsa
If your salsa is tasting a little bitter and you have already added all the ingredients you had intended, there are a few ways you can fix the taste.
The general rule to keep in mind is to add a touch of acid, salt, or sugar. Adding one of these should fix the bitterness of your salsa by bringing back a balance of tastes.
Firstly try to add a sweet ingredient to the mix – just enough to take the edge off the bitterness but not actually taste sweet. You might like to use sugar or honey. Like with adding salt, vinegar, and lime juice, add a tiny bit at a time and taste the salsa as you go to avoid adding too much.
Another thing you can try is to add the juice of about half a lime and a little salt. Add the lime and salt slowly, and taste the salsa as you go. This will help to ensure it does not become unbalanced in a new way.
Another way you can fix bitter salsa is to add a little vinegar. You can use wine vinegar. Adding this acidic element should balance the flavors and even bring out the tastier ones. Add a tiny bit at a time to avoid having too much vinegar in the mix.
Baking soda is an ingredient you can use to neutralize acidity if this is what is causing the bitterness. Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of salsa and heat the mixture up. The baking soda will help to counteract some of the bitter taste.
What Does Adding Sugar To Salsa Do?
Adding sugar to salsa will help balance the flavors if the salsa is a little bitter. You may wish to add sugar to your salsa to counteract the taste of bitter tomatoes that were picked before they were ripe.
Sugar also helps to brighten the flavors of the great-tasting ingredients. It can also balance out the spices you add to the salsa.
Make sure to not go too far with sugar. You don’t want your salsa to taste overly sweet as that can ruin it. Add a little pinch at a time as you can always add more but can’t remove it once it’s added.
Tips For Avoiding Bitter Salsa Next Time
If you have made salsa that turned out bitter before, you may be feeling a little apprehensive about trying it again. The awesome news is that there are a few ways to avoid making bitter salsa, and we have put together a list for you to keep in mind.
Let’s look at our best advice for avoiding bitter salsa next time:
- Use ripe tomatoes. If they were picked when ripe, they are more likely to taste better in your salsa.
- Skin the tomatoes and take out the seeds.
- Choose red bell peppers over green ones.
- Chop your onions and all your vegetables rather than blending them.
- Test your cilantro and any other vegetables to ensure they are not past their best.
It may seem like a lot to consider. Still, the quality is an excellent concept to consider as you select your ingredients. Choose the best ingredients you can, and your salsa will likely taste great. Of course, if you have done everything to avoid a bitter salsa and it has still turned out bitter, follow our advice to fix it.
How Do You Make Salsa Taste Better?
If you need to add some excitement to your salsa, we have some great ideas. Try one or more of these tips for excellent tasting salsa.
- Add cilantro
- Add a little salt
- Add lemon or lime juice
- Add cumin
- Add onion
- Add diced jalapenos
As you add ingredients to your salsa, be sure to add a little at a time and taste the salsa as you go along. Our suggestions have intense flavors that can become a little overwhelming if added too generously.
Hopefully, you now know why your salsa is bitter. Salsa usually becomes bitter when ingredients are not fresh. Your cilantro could be bad, the tomatoes may have been picked before becoming ripe, or even metallic canned tomatoes could be a problem.
Consider peeling tomatoes and removing their seeds before adding them to the salsa. Fix bitter salsa by adding something sweet, salty, or acidic.