I've found myself in situations like potlucks where there are chips and salsa available with several salsas to choose from. I don't mind trying each one, but it's often the case that there are people in line behind me trying to get food too and I need to quickly decide which salsa to take.

Are there visual indicators that tell how spicy the salsa is? I'm guessing there aren't any definitive indicators, but are there any good predictors?

  • I changed the title so you can get life hacks in addition to visual clues. For example, you could ask other people who've tried it, or your might be able to smell it. Jul 31, 2018 at 16:52
  • 1
    i can smell at least some of the "hot" ingredients, develop your nasal senstitivity perhaps ? Aug 1, 2018 at 8:16
  • Why wouldn’t you just LOOK at the salsa you intend on eating? The more of certain peppers, the hotter the salsa. Generally, milder salsas have fewer peppers.
    – M.Mat
    Aug 11, 2018 at 22:15
  • @M.Mat That is great to hear! That is in fact exactly what my question was originally - how to visually determine how hot salsa is. Perhaps you can post an answer showing/describing what peppers to look for and what they look like? Aug 11, 2018 at 22:46

3 Answers 3


Well, someone has to taste it, if not you, to judge the spiciness. The Scoville Organoleptic Test is a bit subjective, but easy to perform, and some pepper products are rated in Scoville units. The ASTA Pungency Test uses liquid chromatography, so it's not something you might want to try in the middle of lunch in a restaurant -- a bit beyond "Lifehacks".

Practically, you might look at ingredients. Peperoncini has a barely noticeable bite. Poblanos are often eaten, roasted, whole. If the dish has cayenne or hotter peppers, you might want to avoid it.

Pepper Scoville ratings

Or you could just carry a list of common brands of food with hot peppers, with corresponding Scoville data. Regrettably, while hot sauces are commonly rated, I've not seen a list for salsa, whether canned, bottled or sold in restaurants. sigh.

Partial Hot Sauce list


This is a workaround instead of a hack.

Variation #1: You could take a small amount of each salsa on your plate, and then try them after you are through the line. Once you've picked your favorite, you can go back through the line and get more of it.

Variation #2: You can add "cutting in line" into variation #1, but in a polite way. For example, when everyone is going through the line, if there is a gap in front of the salsa for a moment, say, "I just want to take a little of each salsa". Quickly put a dab of each one on your plate, and duck back out of line.

Variation #3: After you have your food, and you've tasted the various salsas, then go back and politely cut in line. It will be faster this time, because you are only getting one of the salsas -- the one you already know you prefer. ("I just want to grab some more salsa. Thanks!")


Following DrMoishe Pippik's excellent observation, that someone has to be the first to try the salsas.
The easiest way to find out which salsa is hot/hottest when there are several choices, is to:

  1. Step aside
  2. Wait
  3. Ask someone who has preceded you in line
  4. Get in line
  5. Choose your condiment

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