Fermented Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca Fermentada)


Are you a lover of salsa fresca, aka pico de gallo, and wondered if it would be any good fermented? Hell yes it’s good fermented. The funny thing is, if you just make your regular salsa fresca (assuming you already make it, which is really straightforward to do without a recipe) and set it in a one of those gasket glassware containers, a jar, or whatever you store it in, it’ll ferment just sitting out on the counter and be perfect in a day or two. (Don’t forget to burp whatever you use if there’s no airlock!)

The store-bought salsa fresca, on the other hand, is not actually what nature intended. It has unhealthy artificial preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, which greatly inhibit if not preclude the possibility of fermentation. This is all about the company’s bottom line, not the full potential of this food from a health and flavor standpoint.

Fermentation naturally keeps things preserved and promulgates healthy probiotic bacteria. For this safe type of fermentation to take place, you simply need to provide an airtight medium that will allow gases which form during fermentation to escape. Salt, which is already a normal ingredient in salsa, is also greatly needed here, as it – along with the anaerobic conditions – will be vital in preventing any bad bacteria or mold to develop in the ferment.

Fermented salsa fresca is kind of like sauerkraut in that no saltwater brine is needed. Rather, directly salting the vegetables will pull the water from the veggies and create the brine that serves as a barrier between the produce and oxygen.

However, maybe partly out of laziness but also because it works, I don’t bother submerging the veggies under the brine in this recipe with a glass weight, which is an otherwise very popular and helpful technique used in fermentation to avoid yeast or mold growth . The reason in this case is, the weight is going to sink, mushing tomatoes and possibly allowing some of the produce to rise to the surface anyway, given how buoyant diced tomato is.

What to do? The fact is, I don’t really like the flavor of salsa fresca fermented beyond a day or two, and within this timeframe, not having the veggies fully submerged in a brine just doesn’t pose those issues for me, so I just leave it as is. If you’re really concerned though, there are steps you could take, like putting everything in a food grade mesh bag, and weighing it down with a few marbles. Some might opt to agitate (stir) the surface of the jar occasionally but I don’t like to do this.

Why don’t I like salsa fresca fermented beyond a couple days, when normally I love things fermented for weeks or months? I guess sour, fizzy salsa just isn’t my thing. The cilantro still has some of its freshness and for whatever reasons, to me it’s perfect in 24-48 hours, so this is my recommendation to you.

Of course, you’re welcome to experiment to see what you like. I see a lot of people’s sweet spot is in 4-5 days; to each his own. Without completely submerging the veggies, the problem is they can get yeasty up top given that much time to ferment, and that means a boozy or sour smell. So, if you want to go longer, please consider some of the ideas mentioned above.

But! There is one technique with pico de gallo that I DO enjoy which involves eating it after just a few days. Rather than eating the chunky salsa in its regular state, I also sometimes ferment for a couple days, then put it all in a mesh strainer to drain all the liquid out. Let it really sit and drain out, giving some shakes. Afterwards, I run all the solids through a blender until it’s mixed very thoroughly and evenly, and then I re-jar the results and refrigerate.

Although it will continue to ferment in this form, the fridge will really slow it down, and I never experience any yeast growth (basically, a pasty white substance at the top of your ferment) the way you might see if you keep the salsa chunky. Because chunky salsa goes soft after a few days, I really like and prefer it as a smooth sauce this way if I’m not going to be finishing the pico within the first couple days or so.

So what’s my bottom line? For me, this is best eaten chunky within the first 24-72 hours. Beyond that, I’d drain all the juice, blend, and refrigerate (shown at the end of this recipe) for a smooth salsa. This blended sauce version can also even be cooked, with added spices like cumin, coriander, and turmeric. It won’t be probiotic anymore, but it’ll create a flavor distinct from any salsa you’ve had. You should give it a try.

So let’s get creating!

Yield: Quart jar

You will need:

  • Quart jar
  • Knife & cutting board
  • Measuring cups & spoons
  • Large/medium mixing bowl
  • Optional: gram scale to determine salt
  • Suggested: citrus press
  • Suggested: garlic press
  • Optional: mesh strainer to make smooth sauce (discussed above)
  • Optional: canning funnel


  • 7-8 Roma tomatoes (or 1.75 lbs. other tomato variety), diced
  • 1/2 medium onion (~100g after peeled), diced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro (~30g)
  • Juice of 1 lime (1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 TBSP additive-free salt (or salt at rate of 2% of total weight of ingredients)
  • Optional: 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Optional: 1-2 jalapenos or serranos, seeded & minced (or hot peppers to taste)


1.) Gently rinse and prepare all the vegetables outlined above.

2.) Combine produce in mixing bowl with salt, pepper, and lime juice and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to allow liquid to be released.

3.) Using the (optional) canning funnel, transfer all ingredients and any liquid that’s already formed into the quart jar. Gently tamp down on the ingredients with a spoon to get everything as submerged as possible. (You may opt to use a method described in the comments above to keep everything submerged, if desired or if going for a ferment longer than 2 days.) Secure the lid or airlock on the jar; don’t forget to burp the jar daily if using a regular lid.

4.) After 1-2 days kept at room temperature, the pico is ready to eat, or it may be transferred to refrigerator storage. However, be advised even in cold storage, you will want to agitate (stir) the top surface occasionally, and fermentation will continue.

Optional: A further step discussed above is, once the pico is fermented to your liking, strain the liquid out and blend all the solids thoroughly. If possible, it is also suggested to transfer it to a smaller jar to reduce the amount of headspace (air up top). Shown below:

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  1. Hey Dan, really keen to try out this recipe. Just wondering how long the smooth blended salsa will last in the refrigerator? Cheers.

    • The good news is… indefinitely. The bad news is, tomatoes oxidize quickly and if you have it in a container with a lot of headspace (air up top) or open and close it many times, it can develop off flavors within a couple weeks; doesn’t mean it is unsafe, just not ideal. So my advice is if you want to save it for some far off date, freeze it. Otherwise, I’d eat it within the first week or so of making it or at least store it very well.


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