What Is Pico de Gallo?

If you’ve ever eaten Mexican cuisine, you’ve almost certainly encountered pico de gallo. This colorfully named—and colorfully colored—salsa variant is delicious topping a taco, mixed into a burrito, or scooped up with some chips. But what is pico de gallo, exactly? What’s in pico de gallo? What does “pico de gallo” mean, and where does this name come from?  Let’s find out.

What is pico de gallo?

Pico de gallo is a form of Mexican salsa that is made fresh. Because the red of the tomato, the white of the onion, and the green of the cilantro are reminiscent of the Mexican flag, it is also sometimes known as “salsa bandera” or “flag sauce.” 

So, is pico de gallo salsa? 

Yes, pico de gallo is absolutely a form of salsa. However, if you mostly have experience with salsas that come in a jar, like Tostinos and Pace, there are some differences. The main one is that pico de gallo is freshly made and less liquid-y. This gives pico a brighter flavor and a more uniform consistency, with visible chopped tomato and onion instead of unidentifiable chunks swimming in red.  

I feel like this description makes me come across as anti-jar salsa here, which I’m really not. I love the stuff. But there’s no denying there’s something especially satisfying about the flavorful freshness of pico.

What does ‘pico de gallo’ mean?

If you put a gun to my head (please don’t) and ask me what “pico de gallo” meant, I probably would guess it has something to do with spice, since “pico” sort of sounds like “picante.” I would be wrong. In fact, “pico de gallo” actually means “rooster’s beak.” This is a pretty great term for a delicious food, but not one you would necessarily associate with salsa. After all, there is no chicken of any kind, beak or otherwise, in pico de gallo.

Then why is it called pico de gallo?

As is often the case with more colorful food terms, there’s not one satisfying etymological answer here. Wikipedia provides a few theories. One is that people originally ate pico between their thumb and forefinger, making a rooster-like pose with their hand. Another theory is that the texture of pico de gallo was reminiscent of chicken grain. Weird!

What is in pico de gallo?

This is an easy one: tomato, white onion, serrano, or jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime, salt. That’s it! Simple as can be. 

Is pico de gallo spicy?

If you are wondering if the little plastic container of pico that comes with your Mexican food is going to be super hot, the answer is probably no. The default spiciness level of pico is usually on the mild side—at Chipotle, for instance, they just call pico de gallo “mild salsa.” 

However, there are absolutely exceptions. If you’re buying pico de gallo at the grocery store, there will usually be a mild, medium, or hot option, as with other salsas. So if you’re spice averse, be sure to check before diving in with a tortilla chip

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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