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Homemade salsa: good for your wallet, better for your health

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(Read caption) It can be much cheaper to make salsa yourself, and homemade salsa is generally healthier than most of the sugary varieties you'll find in stores.

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Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Alexis writes in: My husband and I go through a jar of salsa a week. Problem is, the brands without high fructose corn syrup average $2.79 at our grocery store. Would it be cheaper to make our own? Since tomato season is about to end on the East Coast, would canned tomatoes make a difference in the DIY route?

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I’m with you on avoiding the high fructose corn syrup in salsas. I try to avoid it in everything I eat. The human body doesn’t need it, to say the least.

Of course, when you make that choice, prices go up. As you mention, it’s pretty tough to find salsa in the store without corn syrup in it for under $3 per jar.

But how much does it cost to make salsa at home? I like Alton Brown’s simple salsa recipe, so I’ll use that as an example. It contains:

6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 seeded and minced jalapenos, plus 2 roasted, skinned and chopped jalapenos
1 red bell pepper, fine dice
1/2 red onion, fine chopped
2 dry ancho chiles, seeded, cut into short strips and snipped into pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lime, juiced
Chili powder, salt, and pepper, to taste
Fresh scallions, cilantro or parsley, to taste

I went to the local grocery store and price-checked these items, using a few simple substitutions (like diced tomatoes for the Romas). I came up with a total of $4.40.

I then made a batch of this and found that it made a volume of salsa equal to about two and a half typical salsa jars. I saved it fresh in the refrigerator.

So, my cost per jar of making it from scratch is about $1.80. This assumes, of course, that I keep it fresh in the refrigerator and don’t can it. If I choose to can it, the cost is going to start approaching that of just buying a jar in the store.

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My conclusion is that if you’re just making some fresh salsa for a party or something, it’s cheaper to make good salsa yourself. However, if you’re making it to can, you’re going to want to think about your approach carefully.

Of course, there’s one big key to all of this: the garden. If you have a garden that can provide you some or all of the ingredients in the recipe, your salsa is going to be less expensive whether you can it or not.

For example, pulling just the tomatoes and a bell pepper from one’s own garden drops the price of ingredients by about half. Plus, your salsa will taste better. This saves dollars, not pennies, and it saves your taste buds, too.