Chipotle's Red Salsa Has Gotten Spicier — Here's How To Tame It

When I heard there was social media buzz about whether Chipotle's Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa has gotten hotter, I had to know more. I love spicy food, and since my very first visit to Chipotle, I've always ordered the same thing: a Barbacoa Burrito Bowl with no rice (yes, I'm in the anti-cilantro camp), pinto beans, romaine lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and plenty of the Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa.

Now, I'm not a heat-for-heat's-sake person: I love spicy foods that also have great flavor, and for me, the flavor-heat balance in Chipotle's hot salsa has always been spot on. Over the years, I've fine-tuned the way I order my burrito bowl, and if there's not enough of the hot salsa, I'm left seriously disappointed. But the salsa being too spicy? The thought had never crossed my mind outside of the single time I ordered extra on my burrito bowl, which was a big mistake. (Now I order it with the standard amount of hot sauce plus an extra side, so I can spice it up to my desired heat level.)


Bro it was never like this, and I can't just put it all over my bowls anymore!!! I be burning up!! #chipotle#redchilli#food

♬ original sound – itsjessebr0

Sure, there are countless TikTok videos about just how hot the salsa is, and The Wall Street Journal even did an investigation into the salsa controversy, asking Chipotle's VP of culinary and menu development, Nevielle Panthaky, about the matter. Panthaky revealed that the restaurant chain was aware that some customers thought the hot salsa tasted spicier and the company had done some investigating of its own. Chipotle learned that one of the Indian peppers in the salsa was showing as "more assertive" than it had in previous harvests, which could certainly account for the increased perception of heat. But just how hot is it? Is social media making a big deal over a mild matter?

Chipotle's red salsa is seriously spicy

Chips and salsa for lunch? Yes, please! Since I usually experience Chipotle's hot salsa in the context of all the other goodness in my favorite burrito bowl, I decided some slightly more scientific research was in order.

The grainy texture of Chipotle's Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa has always tipped its hand in terms of its heat level — those are chili seeds you see, and this stuff is hot. Really hot. And the flavor's delicious, full of warm cumin notes and ... pardon me while I blow my nose. The spice is seriously intense when you taste it alone on a chip, and that heat builds rapidly.

I'm talking nose running, scalp sweating, walk-it-off heat. As I snapped a few photos of my not-very-nutritionally-balanced lunch, I swiped another chip through the salsa in the name of research. I cursed as I fanned my tongue; I love the flavor, but I hate myself for taking another bite. We all have different thresholds for heat, and I suspect mine is a little higher than average. Would I consider the Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa inedibly hot on its own? I think I do.

Interestingly, Chipotle's website lists all the ingredients used for every single menu item. On the page for its red salsa the company discusses capsaicin (the thing that makes hot peppers hot) and suggests that, if you end up with a particularly spicy burrito, you should cool your mouth down with some milk. Naturally, I immediately ordered a side of sour cream.

Should you cool the salsa's heat with sour cream?

While a margarita pairs well with Mexican food or Tex-Mex, it is, unfortunately, the wrong thing to cool down a dish that's too spicy. Chipotle explains that the milk protein casein, which can be found in sour cream, tames the heat of spicy salsas like the Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa, which accounts for the combo's popularity. In fact, TikTok's beloved Dragon Sauce — which is one of the top Chipotle secret menu items – is actually nothing more than the hot salsa mixed with sour cream.


this menu hack is ELITE #chipotle #chipotlehack #dragonsauce #quesadilla #foodies #trending #viral #fyp

♬ original sound – Chipotle

So I had to try it, of course, and it was utterly fantastic. The sour cream adds tanginess and body to the salsa, while ever-so-slightly bringing the heat level down to a pleasant burn. My nose was still running, but I was no longer cursing, which for me is the ideal amount of spice.

And that's why the level of heat in Chipotle's Tomatillo-Red Chili Salsa is perfect, though it is indeed hotter than it used to be. On its own, it's too much for even spice-lovers such as myself, but when you add it to one of the burrito bowls or other menu items featuring cooling ingredients like cheese, beans, and sour cream, the heat is exquisitely balanced. It's pretty much the reason I go to Chipotle.