Taste test: Cheap chips and salsa for the Super Bowl

Jan. 30, 2013 at 4:37 PM ET

Santitas Tortilla Triangles come in white corn or yellow; both are good bets.

By Kara Reinhardt,

This Sunday, the Super Bowl will bring together the Ravens and the 49ers, the Harbaugh brothers as head coaches, and (if reports are to be believed) Beyoncé and the rest of Destiny’s Child in a halftime-show reunion. Fans from Baltimore to San Francisco will watch the spectacle with another notable combination: tortilla chips and salsa. It’s a cheap crowd-pleaser, provided you don’t wind up with bland, flimsy chips that snap off into something resembling tomato soup.

To find the best pairing for fans on a budget, Cheapism conducted a blind tasting of cheap name-brand and national store-brand chips and salsa. An 11-person panel sampled 14 varieties of tortilla chips and 19 salsas from stores including Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Target, Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart (prices vary by location).

Here are the favorites, based on appearance, texture/consistency, and, of course, taste:

  • Santitas Tortilla Triangles from Frito-Lay ($2 for an 11-ounce bag) beat out so-called restaurant-style, natural, and organic chips, as well as other traditional options, to take the top spot. Tasters described these chips as sturdy and crispy, with just the right amount of salt and a pleasing corn flavor that holds its own even without any dip, yet won’t overpower mild salsa. Both white- and yellow-corn versions earned near-universal praise.
  • Kirkland Signature Tortilla Strips ($3.59 for a 48-ounce bag) boast the lowest price per ounce and come in a package big enough to feed a large gathering. These Costco store-brand chips buck the triangle trend with their rectangular shape, which may help partygoers dip and eat them more neatly. They drew the most kudos from panelists who like their chips on the salty side.
  • Calidad White Corn Tortilla Chips ($1.99 for a 12-ounce bag) are light in both color and texture, with a delicate crunch and mild flavor. These chips didn’t exactly stand out but elicited no negative reviews from the panel on any front, making them a safe choice for a finicky group.
  • Great Value Mild Chunky Salsa ($1.98 for a 24-ounce jar) proves true to its name, with large veggie chunks and a mellow taste. The price of this Wal-Mart house brand was among the lowest, yet unlike with some inexpensive salsas, there was no comparing the consistency to spaghetti sauce. This was the only variety that satisfied every palate on the panel.
  • Simple Truth Organic Mild Salsa ($2.59 for a 16-ounce jar) delighted about half the panel with a combination of sweetness and a smoky flavor tinged with spice. This Kroger-brand salsa is somewhat thin but does contain vegetable pieces. Overall, tasters voted this the best salsa marketed as organic or natural.
  • Simple Truth Organic Tomatillo Medium Salsa ($2.59 for a 16-ounce jar) was declared the best salsa verde in the bunch. Panelists appreciated the nice, thick consistency, compared with others that were too runny. While this should appease guests hankering for something spicier than mild salsa, it also displays a slight, almost fruity sweetness.

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